Can Household Pets Transmit Coronavirus? Experts Say Risk Is Low

Health experts say there is little chance a pet will transmit the coronavirus

A veterinary technician prepares to vaccinate a dog named Cohiba at a drive-through pet vaccine clinic at Mission Viejo Animal Services Center amid the COVID-19 pandemic on June 23, 2020 in Mission Viejo, California.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

If you are thinking of adopting a dog or a cat but are worried about COVID, you might like to know that veterinarians and others believe there is little chance of your contracting COVID-19 from your pet.

In fact, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the greater risk seems to be the other way, of the novel coronavirus spreading from you to your pet. 

“Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low,” the CDC says. “A small number of pets have been reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after contact with people with COVID-19.”

Dr. John Howe, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association said that compared to the 4 million cases of COVID-19 that have been confirmed in humans in the United States, only a handful of animals have become ill.

“It’s extremely unlikely that a pet is going to get COVID-19,” he said.

Researchers are still learning about how the virus is transmitted and how it sickens humans and animals.

“What we thought we knew yesterday is different today, and then what we know today is going to be different tomorrow,” said. Dr. John Bruker, the president of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. “But there’s still no definitive evidence that pets play a significant role in the spread of the virus.”

“Today there is very little to worry about as far as adopting a pet,” he said.

Bruker said he had not heard of any U.S. pets becoming significantly ill or dying from COVID.

After Bruker was interviewed, it was revealed that the first dog in the United States to be diagnosed with COVID-19 had died. The German shepherd from New York City, who was named Buddy, also had lymphoma. One of the dog's owners also tested positive for COVID and a second dog for antibodies.

The Mayo Clinic on its website notes that there is no evidence that viruses can spread to people or other animals from a pet’s skin, fur or hair.

At the beginning of April, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus, in what was believed to have been the first known infection in an animal in the United States and the first tiger anywhere. 

Six other tigers and lions also were coughing, and all were believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who had not showed symptoms. All were doing well, behaving normally and eating well, according to the zoo.

As more Americans return to work, pets used to work-from-home routines are facing a major adjustment.

Earlier in Hong Kong, the first two dogs to have coronavirus — a Pomeranian and  German shepherd — probably caught it from their owners, according to the University of Hong Kong. Neither dog showed noticeable signs of illness. 

Among house cats, one in Hong Kong and two in New York were the first to have been found infected. 

The CDC’s advice for caring for you pets? Treat them mostly as you would other family members of the human kind. 

Until more is known about how the coronavirus affects animals, don’t let them interact with people outside of your household and if you can, keep your cats indoors and walk dogs on a leash at least 6 feet from people. 

“If you’re social distancing, try to do the same for your pet,” Bruker said. 

The CDC suggests you consider avoiding dog parks and other places where large numbers of people and dogs gather though it also provides guidance if you do decide to go to one — bring your own water bowl, clean and disinfect anything brought to the park once you get home, such as leashes and toys. 

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It makes a similar suggestion about day cares for pets or groomers if you must take your pet there: Limit the items you bring there and disinfect everything returned home. 

Do not use disinfectants, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on your pet.

Masks also are out, for pets. Covering their face could harm them. 

But if you’re sick, you should wear a mask while you’re caring for your pet. Best is to isolate from your dog or cat, so no petting, snuggling or allowing them to sleep in your bed – and kisses and licks are out.

Should your pet test positive for COVID, take the same precautions you would for anyone else in your family, the CDC recommends. That means try to isolate your pet in a separate room. Wear gloves when feeding, cleaning a litter box or handling bedding. If your pet seems to be getting worse, call your veterinarian.

Of the small number of dogs and cats confirmed to have coronavirus, some did not show any signs of illness, while others had only mild symptoms and could be cared for at home, according to the CDC. None died.

Routine testing of pets for coronavirus is not recommended, according to the CDC.

Epidemiologists think that the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 made the leap from an animal to humans. Genetic sequencing shows that the virus is a close relative to other coronaviruses circulating in horseshoe bat populations, but there is not enough scientific evidence yet to identify the source or the way in which the original transmission to humans was made, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health. It may have involved an intermediate animal.

According to the organization, large cats and domestic ones, dogs and mink have tested positive for the coronavirus, after contact with humans known or suspected to have been infected. Cats have shown respiratory and gastrointestinal signs.  

In the Netherlands, the coronavirus raced through farms where mink are raised for fur and at least two farm workers caught the virus from mink, the magazine Science reported.

Other animals that have been infected: ferrets, fruit bats, hamsters and rhesus macaques.

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