COVID-19 and Your Pets

The recent diagnoses of COVID-19 in two cats in New York State has pet owners asking a lot of very good questions.  Here we address the most common questions:

How did the animals/pets get infected? 

All the animals and pets that have tested positive thus far were either infected by humans or were assumed to have been. “The lab animals were loaded up with levels of virus that wouldn’t reflect real-world transmission. The zoo cats were infected by an employee who was asymptomatic. The pets got it from their owners. In other words, what we’re seeing is human-to-animal transmission.”[1]  Thus the possibility of pets transferring the virus to their human caregivers remains incredibly low.

Can infected animals spread COVID-19 to each other or to their human owners?

“…there’s no evidence whatsoever that we’ve seen from an epidemiological standpoint that pets can be transmitters within a household.” – Dr. Anthony Fauci

The CDC, the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and other public health bodies and experts agree on this: There’s no evidence that animals transmit the virus to humans or have played a role in its spread.  There is a difference between infected and infectious.  “The virus may be able to infect tissues or cells in a host, say, the respiratory tract, but they’re not able to complete the life cycle in terms of transmitting to a new host,” said Jonathan Runstadler, a virologist and professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “Those are commonly referred to as dead-end infections.”[2] 

 It is not outside the realm of possibility that a pet could spread the disease, but the overwhelming evidence is that COVID-19 is spread to humans via other humans.

Do I need to limit my pet’s exposure to the family?  To the outside world? 

The risk of animal-to-human spread appears to be extremely minimal, but there are still a lot of unknowns around COVID-19 so we would recommend erring on the side of caution.  Social distancing is being practiced around the world.  The same principles around social distancing as they pertain to household members should be practiced with our pets.  Our pets are part of the family and are intimately involved in our everyday lives.  This means that our pets should only be interacting with members of the immediate household. The “6 feet rule” as it applies to you, should extend to your pets as well.  “Best Practice” would entail social distancing on walks and preventing dog to dog interaction. 

Can my pet transmit the virus via their fur?

As previously stated, the risk of animal-to-human spread is miniscule. However, dog and cat fur are technically “surfaces” and, according to the CDC, the virus can stay active for up to 24 hours on a “soft” surface.  If you are practicing social distancing with your pets, disinfecting their fur is likely not needed on a regular basis. 

AtlasVet is a healthcare facility and we want all of our employees to be at minimal risk so we are currently using a disinfectant leave on mousse if the pet we are seeing is coming from a COVID-19 positive house or a suspected COVID-19 positive house.  We do not feel this needs to be regular practice for your pet.

What should I do if I am sick from a COVID-19 infection and have pets?  Can my pets get sick from me?

In these cases, we recommend you treat your pet as an extension of yourself.  The pet should be quarantined away from people outside of the household for as long as you are quarantined.  A COVID-19 positive human patient could consider handing off pet duties to someone else in the home.  If the COVID-19 positive human patient is the only caregiver, treat your pet as you would another loved one and wear a mask and wash your hands before and after handling your pet.  Note:  1) Even if the possibility exists for pet owners to pass the virus to their pet, clinical signs appear to be very mild to non-existent in dogs and mild in cats. 2) Idexx, a lab that we frequently use for testing, tested >5000 animals from 17 countries who were exhibiting respiratory signs and had samples submitted by the attending veterinarian.  Zero returned positive.[3]

Bottom line:

1)    The scientific community is constantly updating what we know about the COVID-19 virus, but at this time there is no current evidence that supports COVID transmission from pets to humans. 

2)    Out of an abundance of caution, AtlasVet recommends you act as if your pets are an extension of yourselves and practice social distancing with other people’s pets just as you would with other non-household members.  If you are not coming into contact with friends and neighbors, it is wise to stop contact with pets that are also not in your household.

Please keep in mind, as veterinarians, we are not allowed to give human medical advice.  If anything you read here is in conflict with advice given to you by your health care provider, please default to your health care provider as your primary source of information.

There is a great article in the Washington Post by Karin Brulliard that we have referenced (along with other articles and studies) and we would encourage anyone with additional questions to read up further: