What you need to know about COVID-19 and Pets and Other Animals
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that range from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). About 20 percent of colds are the result of a human coronavirus. Animal species have their own coronaviruses that cause a variety of illnesses. The dog, cat, pig, and cattle coronaviruses are very common and do not cause illness in people.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, originated from wild animals (likely bats) in China. Due to mutations that created a new virus, it developed the ability to infect humans and spread efficiently from person to person. A few dogs and cats living with COVID-19 patients have tested positive for the presence of virus. Research is ongoing in multiple species to study how animals may be affected.
It is not surprising that SARS-CoV-2 can infect some animals under certain conditions. Other human viruses like H1N1 influenza and SARS-CoV-1, which is very similar to SARS-CoV-2, have also spread from people to animals in low numbers, most notably in cats, ferrets, and pigs. There is no evidence to suggest that a naturally infected animal is capable of transmitting infection back to humans.
COVID-19 is spread from person to person; the risk to animals is very low and the risk from animals is even lower. There is no reason to harm wildlife or abandon a pet out of fear, and fortunately, this does not seem to be an issue in the U.S. In fact, more people are fostering or adopting cats and dogs during the pandemic. The relationship with a pet can be a great source of comfort, helping to decrease depression, anxiety, and stress.
- A recent study published online in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that experimentally infected cats are able to transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to cats living in the same cage, does that change anything?
- What is the risk of infection in pets?
- What else do we know about SARS-CoV-2 and animals?
- What preparations should I make for my pet during the pandemic?
- How will a quarantine affect my pet?
- Can I walk my dog outside?
- What should I do if my pet is exposed to COVID-19?
- Can pets carry the virus responsible for COVID-19 on their fur?
- How do I care for my pet if I am sick with COVID-19 (suspected or confirmed)?
- If my pet is sick should I request testing for SARS-CoV-2
- Will the coronavirus vaccines available protect my pet from COVID-19?
- What should I do regarding routine medical care for my pet?
- What should I expect if I need to take my pet to a veterinarian?
- Whom should I contact if I have questions about the health of my pet?
- What is the risk of COVID-19 infection in horses and livestock (cattle, small ruminants, camelids, swine)?
- Do horses and livestock represent a COVID-19 infection risk for humans?
- How can I create a safe environment in my barn or stable?
- What preparations should be made for horses and livestock during the pandemic?
A recent study published online in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that experimentally infected cats are able to transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to cats living in the same cage, does that change anything?
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin inoculated 3 cats with the novel coronavirus and housed them in separate cages. A second cat that had not been inoculated with the virus was added to each of the 3 cages. Each cat that was inoculated became infected and passed the virus to their cagemate. Though a few of the previously reported cases of SARS-Cov-2 in cats have displayed signs of respiratory disease, none of the 6 cats in this study developed signs of illness and all were virus free within a few days. A previous study found similar results, though only 1 of the 3 pairs of cats transmitted the virus.
This research demonstrates that transmission between cats is possible with prolonged close contact. It does not tell us though, how likely this is to occur in natural settings. The researchers urged people not to forgo the comforts of feline companionship; humans are the clear dangers in terms of disease transmission, not pets. Confirmation of novel coronavirus in cats continues to be a very rare occurrence.
The recommendations from the CDC to protect people also apply to pets and remain unchanged following this study:
- People sick with COVID-19 should isolate themselves from other people and pets, including those in their own household
- Keep distance between yourself and others outside of your home, at least 6 feet
- Keep your pets indoors, when possible, to prevent contact with other people and animals outside of your household
- Wash your hands often
SARS-CoV-2 has been confirmed in cats, dogs, and ferrets. Overall dogs appear to be more resistant than cats, and ferrets have only been diagnosed in a laboratory setting, Confirmed cases in pets are exceedingly rare, and fortunately result in mild or no clinical signs of illness.
It will not be surprising to see additional cases identified in pets during the days and weeks to come, especially as more research is being done in this area. The risk of your pet developing illness from SARS-CoV-2 remains incredibly low. This risk can be reduced even further by treating your pets as you would any other member of your family. Keep them home and away from people and animals that don’t share your household, and avoid close contact with those who are ill.
There have been several reports of animals testing positive and other research studies related to SARS-CoV-2 and animals, including:
- A dog from a household with several confirmed COVID-19 cases tested positive for the virus in North Carolina. The dog was reported to have mild signs of illness and recovered quickly. A cat and another dog in the same household were negative.
- Two cats living in homes from different areas of New York tested positive for the virus responsible for COVID-19. Both cats displayed signs of a mild respiratory illness and made a full recovery. Another cat in one of the households had no clinical signs and tested negative. Though these were not the first positive cats, they were the first in the US.
- Two dogs and two cats tested positive for the presence of the virus in Hong Kong and Belgium. Only one of the cats had clinical signs. All were in close contact with their infected owners. Thousands of other dogs and cats with known exposures from many countries have been tested and found to be negative.
- Eight lions and tigers with clinical signs of respiratory disease tested positive for the presence of the virus in the Bronx Zoo. Several other large cats did not have symptoms of infection and tested negative. Since the zoo was closed to the public, it was believed that they were exposed by a zookeeper who was contagious.
- Two research papers have been released from the US demonstrating that cats and ferrets are able to transmit infection to animals that are housed in their cages. Not all pairs (1 infected and 1 uninfected in a cage) resulted in transmission to the uninfected member.
- A few research papers have been released from China and the Republic of Korea. In these studies, very large doses of SARS-CoV-2 were experimentally given to animals. The results suggest that cats and ferrets are susceptible to infection, dogs are less susceptible, and pigs, chickens, and ducks appear to be resistant. It is Important to keep in mind that this research does not mimic natural infections and there were only a few of each species tested. Additional studies will add to our understanding of this virus.
As you prepare for quarantine or sheltering in place, ensure that your response plans include your pets. Make sure you have everything your pets will need to stay at home with you. These suggestions will help you prepare:
- Be sure to have at least a two-week supply of food, maintenance medications (taken daily), and necessary supplies (e.g., litter, supplements, dust baths, etc.), Veterinarians will often fill up to a 90-day supply for many medications; talk with them about the best option for your pet. You could also request a prescription to use at a human pharmacy in case the veterinary clinic is closed or otherwise unable to provide a refill when it is needed.
- Refill monthly medications for fleas, internal parasites, heartworm preventive, etc. if you are down to a two-week supply.
- Keep a current copy of your pets’ medical records, including vaccine history, health issues, and current medications in case you need to seek urgent medical care from a veterinarian other than your own.
- In case you become sick or injured and unable to care for your pet, identify a friend or family member who is willing to take care of your pet. This is especially important if you live alone. Provide this person with written authorization to enter your home and access to a key. The AVMA offers more tips to help plan for your pet's care if you become ill, click here.
Spending more time at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 is stressful for all of us, especially since the situation is very dynamic. From your pets’ perspective, having more time with you is a wonderful gift! Be sure to spoil your pet with extra pets, snuggles, naps, and playtime. This can help to lower your stress, and your pet will quickly adapt to the new routine enjoying their ‘staycation’ with you. If you are able to welcome another pet into your home, consider adopting or fostering one from your local shelter.
Some animals may be stressed by the recent changes to their daily lives If your household has become busier, perhaps with school-age children at home, be sure that your pet has a quiet area to take a break from the activity. Establishing a predictable schedule for walks, playtime, and meals can lower stress for pets as well as people. Learn more about how you can help your dog adjust and prepare for your eventual return to work.
Yes, you can still take your dog for a walk. This is great exercise and can improve both physical and mental wellbeing. Follow these simple guidelines to maintain social (physical) distancing:
- Use a leash for walks in public spaces so your dog stays near you.
- Avoid crowded or busy locations.
- Go out at times when there are fewer people on the streets.
- Keep your distance (at least 6 feet) from other people.
- If you are sick, stay at home and have someone else in your family walk the dog. Wear a mask if you must do it yourself.
If your pet has been exposed to a person with COVID-19 and develops a respiratory illness, please discuss this with a veterinarian. They will likely recommend testing for more common causes of these signs in pets before considering the unlikely possibility of COVID-19. Per the CDC and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV), testing of healthy animals that have been exposed to COVID-19 is not recommended.
The length of time that the virus can survive on a surface varies based on many factors including temperature, humidity, and the type of surface. Though survival on fur hasn’t been studied for this virus, knowledge of similar viruses suggest that it is not expected to survive for long. Our current understanding is that pets do not play a role in transmission to people.
Given the number of human cases diagnosed across the world and the fact that so few pets have been identified as infected, the risk to your pet appears to be very low. Although it’s unlikely that your pet will become infected or transmit COVID-19 to others, we’re still studying this new virus. In an abundance of caution, it is recommended that we show our pets the same courtesies that are afforded to other members of our household.
The following advice is based on the CDC recommendations for COVID-19 patients living with pets.
- Do not put personal protective equipment or disinfectants on your pet. Reduce contact with your pet. Ideally, have someone else in the household provide basic care while you are ill. If you are the only one who can provide care for your pet, wear a facemask when with them and wash your hands before and after contact.
- Avoid sneezing and coughing on or in the direction of your pet.
- Avoid close contact, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.
- Avoid prolonged contact such as napping or sleeping together in the same place.
- Plan for the possibility that you might be hospitalized and unable to care for your pet. Identify a friend or family member who will take your pet in your absence. This is especially important if you live alone.
SARS-CoV-2 infections are exceedingly rare in pets and the few that have been documented have been mild, resolving without incident. As always, if your pet becomes ill you should contact your veterinarian. Let your veterinarian know if there has been a positive case of COVID-19 in the household or if your pet has a known exposure, so that this can be taken into consideration.
There are several common causes of respiratory illness in pets, and these are far more likely than novel coronavirus. Your veterinarian will provide advice for the best care based on your pet’s clinical presentation. This may include time to simply rest and recover.. If your pet has more severe signs of illness, your veterinarian might recommend general diagnostics The CDC and USDA do not recommend routine testing of pets for the novel coronavirus. Veterinarians who feel testing is warranted due to unusual circumstances or risk to people or populations of animals are encouraged to consult with state animal health and public health officials.
There are other coronaviruses that infect animals, and there are vaccines available for some of them. Although these viruses are in the coronavirus family, each one is a very different virus. Vaccinating animals (or people) with existing coronavirus vaccines is not expected to provide cross-protection, and they should not be used for this purpose.
Just like the recommendation for human medical care, routine wellness care for your pet can be delayed until after social distancing recommendations are lifted. If your pet has chronic health conditions currently under treatment, it is advised that you talk with your veterinarian about the best way to manage your pet’s health, including how best to have prescriptions filled. New or worsening heath issues warrant a call to your veterinarian to discuss options that might include telemedicine or a managed visit to a veterinary clinic or emergency facility.
- Call first, even if it is an emergency! Office hours may have changed, some clinics may be closed, and others may have shifted their services to telemedicine or by appointment only. Once you reach a veterinarian, they will advise you on the best options for you and your pet. Be sure to ask about payment options, as some practices are only accepting credit cards, with preference for online payments.
- For in-person visits, most practices have transitioned to parking lot or curbside check-in rather than sharing a waiting room with others. Be sure to have your pet in a suitable carrier or restrained with a properly fitted collar and non-retractable leash.
- Persons who have signs of respiratory infection should stay at home and not accompany their pet to the veterinary clinic. Owners who remain home due to illness can converse with the veterinary staff via phone or internet to share information about the pet and discuss options for diagnostics and treatments; sharing accurate contact information (phone numbers and email addresses) at the time of check-in will facilitate this communication.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet, you should contact your veterinarian, since she/he is most familiar with your pet’s health and can best guide you. If your veterinarian is not available, reach out to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic for advice.
What is the risk of COVID-19 infection in horses and livestock (cattle, small ruminants, camelids, swine)?
There have been no documented cases of COVID-19 infection in horses or livestock species, and there is no evidence to date that humans represent a risk of this infection to farm animals. However, there are many coronaviruses of veterinary importance, such as transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) and porcine respiratory coronavirus of swine, infectious bronchitis virus of poultry and equine and bovine coronavirus. While these are generally very contagious diseases within a group of animals, they are not often transmitted between species and are quite host-restricted.
It could be very upsetting to hear your veterinarian talk about coronavirus in your herd, flock, or barn at any time. Livestock coronavirus diseases represent a very low risk for human infection and disease (and are not COVID-19). However, other infectious disease of livestock are zoonotic, or diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals. Salmonellosis, brucellosis, ringworm, rabies, tuberculosis, cryptosporidiosis, and Q fever are examples of zoonotic disease. These infections still remain important considerations when interacting with horses and livestock and emphasize the importance of routine biosecurity and rigorous hand hygiene after any contact with animals.
Humans are not at risk for passing COVID-19 to their horses or livestock and there is no reason to believe animals can transmit the disease to humans. However, the virus is very contagious between people, and circumstances where animals or their products bring people together can create a real risk of infection and disease during this pandemic. It is important to respect the current stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines when you must interact with others. To allow the benefits of interaction with horses and livestock to continue, including maintaining economic production, as well as the social and mental health benefits, practice rigorous hand hygiene during and after visiting farms and make sure you’re following these safety tips:
- Stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
- Limit the number of people in the barn at any one time.
- Encourage sick people (boarders, workers, veterinary staff) to stay home. Consider additional restrictions or closure in case of illness or poor compliance with recommendations.
- Clean and disinfect environmental surfaces regularly, and modify barn hours to allow for cleaning.
- Water, feed buckets
- Cross ties, lead ropes
- Tack, halters
- Grooming supplies
- Water taps, hoses
- Stall and door handles
- Wheelbarrows, shovel and broom handles
- Doorknobs, light switches, countertops
- Ensure availability of hand hygiene materials (soap and water, hand sanitizer)
Caring for livestock appropriately during this pandemic will ensure the maintenance of a safe, secure, and stable food supply, and ensure the health and well-being of companion and therapy animals that are important for the health and well-being of humans. Disaster preparedness for horses and livestock should include planning for consistent sources of hay, feed, medications, and alternative caretakers if needed. Create your plan now and share it with others who may play a role. Additional resources listed below provide recommendations on disaster preparedness for horses and livestock operations.
- Information on COVID-19 in pets and felids from Linda J Saif, PhD, College of Veterinary Medicine (Update 4-22-20)
- The Ohio State University Veterinary Health System: Update on services
- American Veterinary Medical Association: What do you need to know about coronavirus?, Veterinary FAQ
- World Small Animal Vet Association (WSAVA): No evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted from pets
- Centers for Disease Control: COVID-19 and animals, Home care and isolation of people with COVID-19 who have pets
- Ohio Department of Health: Coronavirus in Ohio
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): Latest News and FAQ
- World Health Organization: Coronavirus outbreak
- American Association of Equine Practitioners: Emergency and Disaster Preparedness
- Equine Disease Communication Center: Equine Coronavirus Resources
- American Association of Bovine Practitioners: www.aabp.org/
- Ohio Wildlife Center: Dealing with native wildlife animals
- The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Ohio State Insights: Coronavirus in dogs, cats and other pets