There are still many unanswered questions regarding COVID-19 and pets, which is why it’s especially important to follow the current recommendations from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s what we know:
Are dogs and cats at risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19?
Based on what we know now, and what is known about other coronaviruses, there is no evidence that domestic dogs or cats can be a source of COVID-19 infection to humans or other animals. While there is limited evidence to support the risk of the virus to pets, and testing pets remains unwarranted, in an abundance of caution, it is advised to keep pets away from infected people and to confine pets of infected people.
But what about the reports of pet dogs and cats (even lions and tigers!) infected with COVID-19?
According to reports, a small number of pets belonging to people infected with COVID-19 have been tested for the virus. Additionally, a tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is a human virus, and the largest known transmission risk (at this time) is between people, not from people to pets. There is limited evidence to support the risk of the virus to pets, and testing pets remains unwarranted. In an abundance of caution, however, it is advised to keep pets away from infected people and to confine pets of infected people. Any surface with which a person infected with COVID-19 comes into contact may transfer the virus or viral RNA, including pet fur or nasal secretions. As such, good hand and respiratory hygiene should be practiced when handling pets.
Why does information about COVID-19 keep changing?
COVID-19 is a newly emerging disease, and the situation is still evolving. We are learning more about the disease COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2 virus every day.
How can I protect my pet from exposure to the COVID-19 virus?
While there is limited evidence to support the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus to your pet, we recommend the following:
- Wash hands after handling animals or their environment; supervise handwashing for children less than five years of age.
- Keep pets away from people confirmed to have COVID-19, and confine pets of infected people to limit potential spread.
- Protect your skin from direct contact with animal feces by wearing vinyl or household cleaning gloves or using a plastic bag when cleaning up after a pet.
- Promptly wash bites and scratches inflicted by animals.
- Do not allow pets to lick open wounds, cuts, medical devices or the faces of young children and immunocompromised people.
- Avoid contact with wildlife kept as pets, consumed as food and in the environment, and walk pets on a leash outdoors to prevent contact with wildlife.
- Routinely clean and disinfect animal contact surfaces (e.g., cages, feeding areas) and immediately after contact with high-risk species (such as wildlife or free-roaming or stray dogs and cats) or raw animal-based food items.
- Help ensure your pets remain healthy with regular preventive care, including steps to control and prevent parasites. Call your veterinarian at the first sign of illness in your pet.
If pet fur can carry the virus, does that mean I should clean or wipe my pets down with bleach/alcohol/Clorox/Lysol, etc.?
No. While it’s easy to disinfect a doorknob or countertop with disinfectant wipes, alcohol or bleach, all of these things could harm your pet. There is currently no evidence to support the additional bathing of pets as a result of COVID-19. When you do bathe your pet, always use a mild shampoo specifically formulated for pets and lots of water to avoid causing skin problems with harsher soaps or shampoos.
Should my pet wear a mask?
No. There’s no scientific evidence that face masks protect pets from infectious diseases or air pollutants, and masks have the potential to be unnecessarily scary or uncomfortable for pets.
Is there a COVID-19 vaccine for cats and dogs?
There is no COVID-19 vaccine for pets at this time.
Should I get my pet tested for COVID-19?
At this time, testing pets for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, is unwarranted. In an abundance of caution, however, it is advised to keep pets away from infected people and to confine pets of infected people.
Can manufactured pet food carry COVID-19 virus?
It is highly unlikely that dry or canned pet foods are potential viral vectors.
Should I get rid of my pet(s) to be sure they will not transfer the virus to my family?
No. Currently, there is no evidence that domestic dogs or cats can be a source of infection to humans or other animals. Pet ownership can have health, emotional and social benefits, so following responsible pet keeping and hygienic practices are recommended to keep families and pets together and free from disease.
What if my pet’s not feeling well or is showing signs of flu-like illness?
If your pet shows any signs of illness, such as coughing, sneezing or lethargy, call your veterinarian immediately, and keep them indoors as a precaution. Signs of illness in dogs and cats are usually associated with various viral and bacterial infections (kennel cough, canine flu, etc.) that are neither coronaviruses nor transmissible to people.
What if I’m not feeling well, recently visited a high-risk area and/or am quarantined due to potential COVID-19 virus exposure, but my pet still needs medical attention?
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms or are quarantined due to potential coronavirus exposure, stay home and call your medical provider for advice on next steps.
If your pet does not require immediate veterinary care, keep them at home and avoid contact with other people and animals; we’ll be happy to help you reschedule any appointments for your pet until you’re well.
If your pet needs to be seen urgently due to a life-threatening situation or illness:
- Call to confirm your veterinary clinic is equipped to treat patients that could have been exposed to COVID-19 virus and has adequate isolation facilities and staffing to care for your pet. While there is limited evidence that pets can be infected and no evidence that domestic dogs and cats pose a risk to others, this is purely a precaution because the virus is not well-understood.
- If your veterinary clinic is unable to provide full isolation and associated care for your pet, ask for a referral to the nearest veterinary clinic with ICU or isolation capacity.
- Arrange for an unexposed/non-quarantined friend or family member to transport your pet to and from the veterinary clinic to limit potential exposure
What is known about other coronaviruses in cats and dogs?
While there’s still limited evidence to support the risk of COVID-19 virus infection to dogs or cats, there are other coronaviruses that do impact pets, none of which are transmissible to people:
- Cats: Feline enteric coronavirus (FCoV) causes a mild or asymptomatic infection in domestic cats, and most signs are gastrointestinal-related. The widespread virus is more common in areas of higher cat numbers (catteries, shelters).
- Dogs: Two known coronaviruses exist in dogs. The gastrointestinal form can range from asymptomatic or mild diarrhea to severe debilitating inflammation of the small intestine, which in puppies, will occasionally result in death. Most dogs have a mild disease consisting of cough, sneezing, and nasal discharge.
What is the treatment for coronaviruses in pets?
There is no specific treatment for coronaviruses in dogs or cats, as mild clinical signs are unlikely to require therapy. Supportive care, including replacement of lost fluids, nutritional support, and anti-nausea medication may be used for more severe cases. Hospitalization is rarely necessary. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses and therefore will not help treat coronaviruses.