Covid-19 and Pets — What You Need to Know
Can pets get COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2?
- There is evidence indicating that pets can become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, but these cases are rare. Among all known cases, the source of the virus appears to be human family members with COVID-19.
- Cats are more easily infected than dogs and may more readily show signs of illness.
- Ferrets have shown susceptibility to infection in experimental settings, but there are very few reported cases among pet ferrets.
- The USDA maintains a list of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infected animals in the United States on its website. A global list is maintained by the World Organization of Animal Health.
In late February and early March of 2020, two dogs in Hong Kong tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that human-to-animal transmission is possible. However, neither dog showed clinical signs of infection, and it’s understood that the dogs were infected by their owners, who were diagnosed with COVID-19.
In late April, a North Carolina dog participating in a Duke University research study was diagnosed as presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 after multiple human family members tested positive for COVID-19. However, the dog’s diagnosis could not be confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Researchers now believe the dog’s initial test swab may have been contaminated by virus from a family member.
On June 2nd, the USDA confirmed the first case of SARS-CoV-2 in a dog in the United States: a German shepherd in New York State. One of the dog’s owners had previously tested positive for COVID-19, and another owner displayed symptoms of the disease but was not tested. It’s presumed the dog was infected by these family members. Contrary to previous SARS-CoV-2 cases in dogs, which have not exhibited clinical signs of infection, this dog did display mild respiratory illness. However, it’s unclear whether the illness was coincidental with SARS-CoV-2 infection or caused by it. Another dog in the same household tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, suggesting previous infection, though this dog did not display any signs of illness.
Cats appear to be more susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and a number of cases have been reported, including:
- A cat in Belgium tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after the owner fell ill with COVID-19. This cat displayed some digestive and respiratory clinical signs but recovered.
- A study from Wuhan, China determined approximately 15% of cats tested had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. The study did not determine if the cats were shedding virus, nor did it report on the illness status of any of the cats studied.
- In New York City, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and other tigers and lions living with the SARS-CoV-2 positive tiger were later determined to be SARS-CoV-2 positive by fecal testing. These animals exhibited signs of mild clinical illness and made a full recovery.
- In New York State, two cats from separate households tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Both cats exhibited mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery.
A complete list of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infected animals can be found on the website of the World Organization of Animal Health.
Ferrets have long been a model for studying human respiratory disease due to the similarities in susceptibility to viral infections, so it’s not surprising that they have shown susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection in experimental settings. However, these experiments have involved exposing ferrets to large amounts of the SARS CoV-2 virus, possibly more than a pet ferret would be exposed to if their owner had COVID-19. Experimental studies are important in furthering our understanding of COVID-19, but the studies conducted on ferrets have not mimicked natural exposure that would occur in a home where people and pets interact.
Why could cats be more susceptible than dogs?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 enters cells via a receptor called ACE2. The ACE2 receptor of cats is nearly identical to the human receptor. The dog ACE2 receptor is only about 70% the same as the human receptor.
Can SARS-CoV-2 be spread by companion animals?
Short Answer: There is no evidence that dogs or cats can be a source of infection for humans, however cats may be able to spread the disease to other cats.
The Centers for Disease Control, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the American Veterinary Medical Association all agree that there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread SARS-CoV-2 to humans.
However, a study conducted by veterinarians in Wisconsin demonstrated that cats can spread the disease to other cats in an experimental setting, although none of the cats showed signs of respiratory illness. Another study out of Chile demonstrated that infected cats in a COVID-19-positive household shed the disease for a shorter time than their human family members, providing some insight into why humans can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to cats, but cats do not seem to transmit the virus to humans.
As a general precaution against all infectious diseases, regular hand washing and good hygiene are recommended before and after interacting with any companion animal.
Can my pet get tested for SARS-CoV-2?
Short Answer: Routine testing is not recommended, but it’s possible under certain circumstances.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control, New York State public health officials, and various veterinary organizations, routine testing for SARS-CoV-2 is not recommended in companion animals.
However, if your pet meets the following criteria and you would like to have your pet tested, please discuss testing options with your veterinarian.
- Pet is living in a household with a human who has COVID-19 or has tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus
- Pet has already been tested for more common infections, which a veterinarian has ruled out
- Pet (especially cats and ferrets) is showing clinical signs consistent with COVID-19
Please Note: Depending on local and state regulations, your veterinarian might be required to notify your local health department of any pets testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.
What can I do to protect my pet during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Short Answer: Practice social distancing with your pet and have an emergency plan. If you are sick, limit interaction with your pet.
The same social distancing measures implemented to reduce the human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 should be applied to your pets. You should:
- Avoid crowded, public spaces
- Limit your pet’s contact with other humans and animals
- Keep your dog on a leash
- Keep your cat indoors
If you are sick, restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. When possible, have another member of your household take care of feeding and caring for your pets. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, wear a cloth facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them. Even if you are not sick, wash your hands before and after every interaction with your pet.
It’s also important to have an emergency plan in place in case you get sick and are unable to care for your pet. Following American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) guidance, AMC has put together a comprehensive guide for pet planning during COVID-19. Please download the PDF resource below.
What clinical signs do pets show when they’re infected with SARS-CoV-2?
Short Answer: Infected pets are most often asymptomatic, though a few show mild respiratory and gastrointestinal illness. However, cases are rare, and much is unknown about the infection in companion animals.
There is still much that’s unknown about SARS-CoV-2 and companion animals, and positive cases of infection are rare. That makes it hard for researchers to say definitively what clinical signs to watch for in pets, however the infection may resemble a mild version of the human disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, expected clinical signs in pets may include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Nasal/Ocular discharge
What should I do if my pet is displaying clinical signs of SARS-CoV-2 infection or tests positive?
Short Answer: Fortunately, pets that test positive for SARS-CoV-2 seem to display only mild clinical signs of illness, if any, and recover without treatment. However, you should limit contact with them while they recover.
At this time, there is no treatment for SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals. Fortunately, companion animals that test positive for SARS-CoV-2 seem to display only mild clinical signs of illness, if any, and recover without treatment. Additionally, the rate of infection in companion animals appears to be very, very small when compared to the rate of infection in humans.
However, to protect yourself and your family, you should limit contact with any SARS-CoV-2-positive animal. Although there is no evidence that companion animals can be a source of infection for humans, medical researchers are still learning about the disease, including the exact mechanism of transmission.
If your pet is sick, you should follow recommended infectious disease protocol and hygiene while caring for them, including:
- Limit interaction with the pet as much as possible
- Wear gloves and a cloth facemask while providing care
- Wash your hands before and after any contact with them
Pet owners should limit interaction with SARS-CoV-2 infected pets until the pet has recovered from the illness and it’s been at least 14 days since the first clinical sign of illness or the pet has received a negative test from a diagnostic lab.
What if I have other questions about COVID-19 and pets?
At the Animal Medical Center, we’re closely monitoring the progress of the COVID-19 outbreak and relaying as much information as we can from government agencies and veterinary experts to concerned pet owners.
To keep pet owners up to date on the latest medical information regarding COVID-19 and pets, we hosted a series of monthly “Ask a Vet” Zoom and Facebook events during the spring of 2020, archived below.
Sign up for our pet health newsletter for more information regarding upcoming online events. Please continue to check this page for more information and updates.
- Centers for Disease Control | Frequently Asked Questions | COVID-19 and Animals
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) | SARS-CoV-2 in Animals
- United States Food and Drug Administration | Helpful Questions and Answers about Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Your Pets
- Cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Animals in the United States