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April 21, 2020

Pets and COVID-19: What You Should Know

Guest Post by Shelly Sandel, DVM – Northfield Veterinary Hospital

As we continue to learn about COVID-19, more and more people have concerns about whether their pets can get infected or transmit the disease to humans.   While we are learning more about this with every passing day, I’ll share with you what we know as of right now.

Can COVID-19 infect dogs and cats, and can it cause clinical disease in pets?

We don’t know this for sure.  Early evidence shows that a dog in Hong Kong that lived with an infected person tested positive over multiple days. A second dog in Hong Kong was also positive for the virus while living with an infected person.  It is important to note that neither dog had any clinical signs associated with this virus. In late March 2020, a cat living in Belgium also tested positive for the virus, and pieces of viral RNA were found in its feces. This cat had vomiting, diarrhea, and respiratory symptoms.  A second cat in Hong Kong also tested positive and viral RNA was found in its feces, nasal passages, and its mouth. Scientists have shown that cats can transmit the disease, and we also know that ferrets show clinical signs when they are experimentally infected with COVID-19

Can infected dogs and cats transmit the disease to people?

I wish I could say that this is a definite “no,” but we just don’t know for sure yet.  It is important to note that so far NO transmission from animal to human has been documented.  However, a new study found that cats and ferrets (but not dogs) could be infected, and that infected cats could transmit the COVID-19 to other cats.  Experimentally infected dogs developed antibodies and viral RNA in their feces, but no live virus was found and dogs cannot get infected naturally. However, although the risk is considered very low, people should also be careful handling dogs from infected people.

What about your pets when you have COVID-19?

If a person who has COVID-19 has already been in contact with a pet, this infected person should be the only one who interacts with the pets including feeding them, cleaning up after them and walking them.  If at all possible, the infected person should keep the pet inside and away from other people. If a dog needs to be walked, it should only be in the person’s yard so as to not spread the virus. If the infected person is too sick to care for the pets, ONE other person should be designated as the only person who can have contact with the pets. The caretaker should wear gloves while handling the pets and then wash his or her hands thoroughly. This person should not let dogs or cats lick them if at all possible.  This person is also responsible for cleaning the pets’ bowls, bedding, and toys.

If a person is positive for this virus and is cuddling with his or her pet, there is a reasonable chance that the pet is positive.  Dogs and cats most likely would not show any symptoms, but ferrets may show symptoms similar to what is seen in people. Since cats and ferrets are able to transmit the virus, it is especially important for uninfected people to stay away from these pets.  Also, because cats constantly groom themselves, consider that a potentially infected cat is likely to carry the virus on its coat. Obviously, the best solution is to keep all pets away from infected people.

Can pets serve as fomites in the spread of the virus (a fomite is an object such as a faucet or an iphone that may be contaminated with the contagious organism and serve in its transmission)?

The best answer to the question comes from the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association):

“COVID-19 appears to be primarily transmitted by contact with an infected person’s bodily secretions such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze.  COVID-19 might be able to be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface or object (eg a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose and possibly eyes, but this appears to be a secondary route. Smooth surfaces transmit the virus better than porous materials, because porous, and especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen.”  Since pet hair is fibrous and porous, it seems highly unlikely that a person would contract the virus by touching or playing with a pet. However, It is still important to wash your hands after playing with your pet, and keep their food and water bowls and toys clean.

Please keep in mind that so far there have been no reported cases of dogs, cats, or ferrets (or tigers) transmitting COVID-19 to people.  Please keep it this way by taking precautions while interacting with your pets.

All information contained in this article was provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN)

Shelly Sandel, DVM

Northfield Veterinary Hospital

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

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