Can Pets Contract Coronavirus?

Written by: Richard Rowlands, Pet Health Expert

Please Note: This is a quickly developing situation. We will try our best to supply you with the most accurate, up to date information possible. For the latest news and research concerning coronavirus and pets, please visit the CDC's COVID-19 webpage "If You Have Animals".

On Wednesday March 11 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic. In response to the threat, on March 16 President Trump and the coronavirus task force issued strict new guidelines for Americans designed to prevent the spread of the disease.

These recommendations include working or engaging in schooling from home, avoiding social gatherings, avoiding discretionary travel, and staying away from bars, restaurants, or food courts. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have also published advice to help protect the public against coronavirus.

We recommend reading these resources thoroughly to prepare yourself and your family for COVID-19. In this article, we'll focus on a question that's a big concern for pet owners around the world: can pets contract coronavirus? Keep reading to find out exactly what COVID-19 is, how to keep your pets safe during the pandemic, and how to include them in your COVID-19 preparedness plans.

What Exactly Is COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19."

COVID-19 is an acronym that stands for coronavirus disease of 2019. The virus that causes the disease is designated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year and has since spread worldwide. Researchers have discovered that the virus probably originated in bats. However, the source of transmission to humans is currently unknown.

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily from person to person. It is transmitted through close contact or respiratory secretions from an infected person. It is also thought that the virus can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. Most people who contract COVID-19 will experience mild symptoms, but older people and those with underlying health conditions may be at risk of serious illness. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and a persistent cough. According to the CDC, emergency warning signs include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, and bluish lips or face. If you develop these or other serious symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

Is There Any Evidence That Pets Can Contract or Spread Coronavirus?

While other types of coronaviruses can affect pets, both the WHO and the CDC state that there is currently no evidence that pets can contract or spread COVID-19. You may have heard news reports that 2 dogs in Hong Kong appear to have contracted low-grade COVID-19 infections. However, neither dog showed symptoms of COVID-19.

The first case in the US of an animal testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Samples from the tiger were collected and analyzed after five lions and tigers at the zoo showed signs of respiratory illness. It is believed that these animals became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee with the virus.

The CDC states that they are "aware of a small number of pets, including dogs and cats, reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. Only a few of the animals reported to be positive showed signs of illness."

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong emphasize that, "there is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they become sick." Results from IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., a global leader in veterinary diagnostics and software, also align with the current expert understanding that pets are unlikely to contract or spread COVID-19. Since February, the company has tested thousands of samples from dogs and cats for SARS-CoV-2. On March 13, IDEXX announced that no pets have tested positive for the virus to date.

On April 20, IDEXX released a pet test for COVID-19 " response to customer demand and growing evidence that in rare cases pets living with COVID-19 positive humans can be at risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection."

How Can I Protect My Pets Against COVID-19?

Current evidence suggests that pets are unlikely to contract or spread COVID-19, but it's important to practice good hygiene around your pets. According to the CDC, "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."

The CDC also recommends restricting contact with pets and other animals if you are sick with COVID-19. If possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick and avoid any form of contact with them. If you must care for your pets while you are sick, wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after interacting with them. It's also a good idea to wear a face mask to reduce viral shedding.

What Else Can I Do to Keep My Pets Safe and Well During the Crisis?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to huge changes in the way we live our lives. Strict new government guidelines have been put in place to slow the spread of the virus, and many of us are now confined to our homes. If you are not yet quarantined, now is the time to stock up on pet supplies and other essentials to help you take care of your companion animals.

In an article for the New York Times, Heather Loenser, D.V.M. and senior veterinary officer at the American Animal Hospital Association advises pet owners to make sure they purchase a two-week supply of pet food, medications, and cleaning products. It is also recommended to ensure that your pets are up-to-date on all vaccines.

In addition, all pet owners should also have a disaster preparedness plan in place. Identify a family member or friend who can care for your pets if you or others in your household are too unwell to do so. It is also important to ensure that your pet has a collar and microchip with up-to-date contact details. For more information about pet disaster preparedness, please refer to this article from the Humane Society of the United States. 

Finally, make sure to provide your pets with plenty of mental and physical exercise during the coronavirus crisis. If you're stuck at home, there are still lots of ways to keep your pet mentally and physically active. Puzzle toys and feeders are a great way to keep your pet stimulated around the house. It's also a good idea to play games with your pet to encourage engagement. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends continuing to walk your dog if local regulations allow. Just take care to practice social distancing and wash your hands before and after each walk.