Coronavirus and Pets: FAQs for Owners

Oct 7, 2020 / Infectious Disease / Public Health / Cats / Dogs

[closeup of dog's nose/face]

These FAQs were last updated on October 7, 2020. The newest additions are at the top of the page and reflect recent data related to mink-human transmission of the coronavirus.

Can people transmit SARS CoV-2 to animals?

Yes. Although this occurrence is rare, it is possible for people to infect animals, including their pets, with SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Here is what we know so far.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, among pets like dogs and cats, a small number worldwide have been reported to be infected. This has occurred mostly after close contact with people who were infected with SARS CoV-2.

For this reason, it is recommended that if a person inside a household becomes sick or tests positive for SARS CoV-2, they should isolate themselves from other people as well as other pets. In addition, pets living in a household with an infected person should not socialize with anyone or any animals outside of that household.

One recent study that has not been published or peer-reviewed has shown that dogs, cats, and ferrets living in households with humans that have been positive for SARS CoV-2 do seroconvert. Seroconversion means that the pets developed antibodies to the virus, indicating that they were previously exposed and infected.

For more information please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/pets.html

Listen and Learn: Podcasts on New Coronavirus

Download explanations of the outbreak from veterinarians Jim Lowe and Ashley Mitek on The Round Barn podcast website.

In language everyone can understand, they explain how viruses move from one species to another, occasionally with devastating effects on the human population.

You might surprised how much a pig vet’s expertise in biosecurity relates directly to social distancing and other risk-reduction measures.

Additional Resources from the College:

Do pets or other animals get sick from SARS-CoV-2 like people do?

This answer depends on the species. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, cats, mink, and dogs have all tested positive for the virus after exposure to a human with known or suspected SARS-CoV-2. Cats and mink are most likely to become symptomatic, when compared to dogs, and mink appear to have an increased likelihood of dying.

In experimental studies, cats are able to transmit the infection to other cats, and can become symptomatic. We also know that according to recent outbreaks on mink farms, mink can transmit the virus to other mink, and in rare circumstances, infected mink can transmit the virus to humans.

On October 9, 2020, the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture confirmed that at least 2,000 mink have died from the coronavirus at a Wisconsin mink farm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deployed a team to the scene to make sure the outbreak is controlled. For more information on the WI outbreak please visit: https://www.wisn.com/article/coronavirus-hundreds-of-mink-die-at-wisconsin-farm/34317985

For  more information, please visit: https://www.oie.int/en/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/

To view an updated list of species that have had confirmed infections with SARS-CoV-2, please visit: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_one_health/sars-cov-2-animals-us

Can animals transmit the new coronavirus to people?

The current COVID-19 pandemic is clearly driven by human-to-human spread of of the coronavirus.

Although the exact origins of the pandemic are unknown, it is likely that the virus initially jumped from an animal species to a human, and then human-to-human spread became the primary mechanism of transmission.

The CDC notes that “based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.” There are no documented cases of dogs or cats spreading the virus to people.

The one species where there is evidence of transmission occurring is in mink. A Dutch team of veterinary scientists used whole genome sequencing to identify the source of COVID-19 transmission. Sixteen mink farms were included in the study, including 97 workers at the farms tested. Approximately two thirds (67%) of workers showed evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection (66/97 employees). After evaluating evidence from genetic testing, researchers in this study strongly suspect that at least some of the humans were directly infected by mink, although they note that additional research is needed in this area.

Mink continue to be a species experts are closely watching. In August 2020, the USDA announced that two mink farms in Utah had been affected by SARS-CoV-2. At this time, authorities report that no humans connected to those farms had been infected.

The CDC does remind everyone that there is no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur, or hair of pets.


Can pets get the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are aware of a small number of pets worldwide, including dogs and cats, reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in people, after close contact with infected people. The USDA has received reports of cats becoming mildly sick from a SARS-CoV-2 infection, including one in Illinois, as well as dogs in the United States. For a complete list of dates of confirmed cases in animals in the United States, please see USDA’s website.

Researchers and authorities are constantly learning about the new coronavirus, but it appears it can spread from people to animals and between animals (particularly cats) in some situations.

All animals diagnosed in the United States have completely recovered or succumbed to a different illness.

It is advisable that pet owners and veterinarians strictly observe hand-washing and other infection-control measures, as outlined by the CDC when handling animals. Do not let pets interact with people outside the household. If you are sick with COVID-19, you should treat your pet like you would any person you interact with and minimize interactions as much as possible.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. We will update as new information becomes available.

Can I get COVID-19 from my pets or other animals?

According to the CDC, based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low.

However, they do recommend that since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals, such as washing your hands and maintaining good hygiene.

This includes the risk of animals carrying the virus on their fur or skin. Guidance does not recommend bathing pets or other animals even if the animal is exposed to the virus because it appears the virus cannot survive for long periods of time on this surface.

For more information on this topic please visit the CDC’s website.

Is there a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for dogs and cats?

There is no vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 for people or animals at this time.

Veterinarians are familiar with other coronaviruses. Similar but different coronavirus species cause several common diseases in domestic animals. For example, many dogs are vaccinated for another species of coronavirus (canine coronavirus) as puppies. However, this vaccine does not cross protect for SARS-CoV-2.

Can veterinarians test for SARS-CoV-2 in pets?

Yes, but because of the minimal risk, USDA, CDC, AVMA, and others are not recommending pets be tested for SARS-CoV-2 at this time. As of March 15, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine has had the capability to test for the new coronavirus in pets. The test request must be submitted by a veterinarian and must include the rationale for the test. Requests will then be sent to the state animal health officer and state public health veterinarian for approval on a case-by-case basis. In the event of a positive result, these same officials must be notified before the referring veterinarian. Please contact the diagnostic laboratory with any further questions at 217-333-1620.

What animal did SARS-CoV-2 originate from?

Previous novel human coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS, originated in horseshoe bats and passed through other species, such as palm civet and camels. Research is still ongoing to identify the suspected animal source for the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and any intermediate hosts it passed through.

If I am diagnosed with COVID-19, how do I protect my pet?

The American Veterinary Medical Association and the CDC recommend that anyone sick with COVID-19 should maintain separation from household pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would with other people. Although only a small number of pets have become sick due to SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.

When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. You should avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a mask and wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.

Should my pet wear a face mask in public?

No. Face masks may not protect your pet from disease transmission and may cause other breathing difficulties.

Should I wear a face mask?

The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public settings around people who don’t live in your household and when you can’t stay 6 feet away from others (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.

How do I protect my pet and myself from the new coronavirus?

We recommend that everyone follows the CDC guidelines, which are routinely updated as research and science continues to improve our understanding of the disease.

If someone needs to enter the residence of COVID-19 patient in order to care for a pet there, what precautions should be taken?

This information has been provided by Dr. Connie Austin, the State Public Health Veterinarian in Illinois.

Direct person-to-person contact is the most likely way that COVID19 is transmitted (e.g., being within 6 feet of an infected person) for at least 10 minutes. Additionally, the possibility exists for infection from contaminated surfaces (i.e., someone could touch a contaminated surface and then touch their face: nose, eyes, mouth), but that is believed to be a far less likely means of transmission. As time goes by, the amount of virus that is viable decreases on surfaces.

If someone needs to go into a house to feed/water/walk a pet(s) from a COVID-19 house/apartment, the following steps are recommended to reduce the risk to the entering person:

  • Wear gloves and clothes that can be easily washed,
  • Bring a plastic bag,
  • Avoid as much as possible touching surfaces in the house,
  • As you leave the house put gloves into the plastic bag,
  • After you attend to the pet and go home, wash clothes and wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Wearing a cloth mask can protect others from your respiratory secretions as you go out in public.

If someone needs to take the pet(s) out of the house:

  • Wear gloves and clothes that can be easily washed,
  • Avoid as much as possible touching surfaces in the house,
  • Have a leash or carrier to use to put the pet in so the pet can be taken out of the house safely,
  • Keep the pets together and isolated away from other pets for 14 days out of an abundance of caution,
  • Wash hands/clothes after leaving the house.
  • Wearing a cloth mask can protect others from your respiratory secretions as you go out in public.

For additional information, refer to AVMA interim guidelines and consult your veterinarian.

What other precautions are recommended?

Visitation to nursing homes and long-term care facilities by service animals and their handlers should be discouraged at this time.

Sources:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html

https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/sars-cov-2-animals-including-pets

https://www.oie.int/en/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/

Photo by Agatha on Unsplash