COVID-19 has been in the news for months, and seems to be all you hear about when you turn on the TV. But, you probably have not heard much about whether the virus can affect your furry friend, and you may have unanswered questions. Misinformation is floating around about COVID-19 and pets, and because health officials are still learning about this novel virus, much of what you hear may be confusing. We are staying on top of current scientific research, to break down the facts, and answer your most common questions about COVID-19 and pets.
Can pets be infected by coronaviruses?
The virus that causes COVID-19, called SARS-CoV-2, belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses. Many coronaviruses affect people and pets, including those that cause the common cold, SARS, and MERS in people, and mild gastrointestinal (GI) disease in pets, and that contribute to kennel cough in dogs. Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus likely originated in animals, and passed from a bat to a person, pets do not seem largely affected by the virus.
Have any pets tested positive for COVID-19?
To further confuse matters, you may have heard about pets in Hong Kong and Belgium testing positive for COVID-19, as well as a tiger at the Bronx zoo. Here is what we know about those cases:
- Hong Kong pets — Two dogs and a cat living with COVID-19-positive owners in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus, although they did not develop illness.
- Belgium cat — A cat in Belgium tested positive for the virus, and developed mild GI and respiratory signs; however, not enough testing was performed to confirm the cat’s illness was due to COVID-19. The cat subsequently recovered.
- Bronx zoo tiger — Several large cats, who were cared for by a zookeeper who later tested COVID-19 positive, developed mild respiratory signs. One tiger was tested, and received a positive result, indicating that COVID-19 had been contracted from the zookeeper. The other large cats displaying illness signs likely also contracted COVID-19 from the zookeeper.
Although these incidences do cause concern, keep in mind that the vast majority of pets living with COVID-19-positive owners have not become infected with the virus. In preparation for possible spread to pets, the veterinary laboratory IDEXX tested thousands of canine and feline samples sent to its facility to validate a COVID-19 test. No pets tested positive for the virus, and although the test for pets remains ready for use, the need is unlikely to arise.
Is my pet at risk for contracting COVID-19?
Based on the information above, pets are unlikely to be largely affected by the virus. Thus far, no U.S. pets have tested positive or developed illness, despite more than 600,000 positive human cases in our country. Health officials with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) continue to monitor this situation, but the risk of pets contracting the virus and becoming sick appears low.
Should I still care for my pet if I get COVID-19?
You should make plans for back-up pet care in case you become sick and cannot care for your pet. If you develop a mild case of COVID-19, and can remain at home, another family member should care for your pet while you are sick, if possible. While pets do not seem to be a common infection source, your pet may be able to carry the virus on their fur or collar, and spread it to healthy family members. Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC recommends that sick individuals not pet, cuddle, or share food with their pets.
How should I protect my pet from infection?
Although pets are unlikely to become infected with COVID-19, again out of an abundance of caution, the CDC recommends that you treat your pet as you would other family members to protect them from infection, or from carrying the virus into your home. To maintain social distancing with your pet, follow these guidelines:
- Prevent interaction between your pet and people, and other animals outside your household
- Avoid public places, such as dog parks, where people and pets gather. The park may be empty when you visit, but recent visitors still may have contaminated surfaces, such as gate latches, that you or your pet may come in contact with.
- Walk your dog on a leash, maintaining a six-foot distance from other people and pets
Can I still bring my pet to Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital?
Yes, as an essential business, the Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital remains open, to provide important medical care for our clients and their pets. However, to keep our clients, patients, and team members safe and healthy, our operations have changed, so call us before you come. To minimize infection risk, we are not allowing pet owners inside our hospital, and have transitioned to curbside appointments. When you arrive with your pet for their appointment, call us, and a team member will come to your car to retrieve your pet. All conversations will take place via phone, and we will take payment over the phone, to prevent the transfer of money, and possibly germs. We will follow the same protocol for your pet’s medication or food pick-up—please call us before coming, so we can have your pet’s supplies ready.
It is with great sadness that we share the loss of two Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital family members to COVID-19. These pet owners were long-time clients with undying love for their pets, and we will miss them dearly.
- Bill Hornsby, the son of a fellow veterinarian, who was the paragon of a gentleman
- Sis Weidner, the best mom and wife, with a heart of gold, who proved love is something you feel and not just say, and loved her dogs beyond measure
This pandemic is real, and has impacted all of us. We are here to help your pet however we can—contact us with your questions or concerns about COVID-19 and pets, or to schedule an appointment.