The past few weeks have brought much change into our lives and resulted in a great deal of uncertainty, including about our pets – who many of us are suddenly spending a lot more time with! To help you better understand the risks to your pets and the precautions you should be taking, we have put together this COVID-19 and pets Q & A based on the best evidence currently available.
Can my pet get COVID-19?
The short answer is that research is ongoing, but the risk to to pets is extremely low, and even in the exceptionally rare cases where sick owners have transmitted the virus to their pets, the pets were largely unaffected.
Most people have heard through the media about two dogs, both of whom lived with infected people in Hong Kong, that tested weakly positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), and were quarantined. However, neither dog developed any signs of related illness. One of them (a 17-year old Pomeranian) passed away shortly after testing negative for the virus and being released from quarantine, but this was believed to be due to underlying medical conditions, age, and the stress of quarantine, rather than COVID-19.
A cat in Belgium is also suspected of acquiring COVID-19 from its owner. One week after the owner became sick, the cat developed diarrhea, vomiting and respiratory issues, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus was found in its feces. The cat has since recovered. Those are the only cases known worldwide – neither the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) nor the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have received any reports of animals or pets becoming sick with symptoms after exposure to an infected person. Additionally, IDEXX (a major veterinary laboratory) has tested thousands of lab samples from dogs and cats that were submitted for other testing, and every one has tested negative.
Can my pet give it to another animal or human?
The short answer is that experts do not believe this is a risk, but it is still important to practice good hygiene around your pets, and infected or exposed people should avoid close contact with pets. Experts unanimously agree that there is no need to give up or euthanize pets due to COVID-19.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the CDC have all stated that there is no evidence that pets can directly spread COVID-19. While the virus is believed to have originally come from a wild animal (likely a bat), it has since adapted to humans and is now spreading from person to person through droplets produced when an infected person speaks, sneezes or coughs. If someone is infected, the primary risk is from exposure to them, not their pet.
We still recommend that if you have COVID-19 symptoms (or are in self-isolation due to exposure), you avoid close contact with animals, practice good hand hygiene, and avoid sneezing and coughing on or near your animals. If you are sick, try to have another person care for your animals, and if that is not possible, always wash your hands before and after touching your pets, their supplies, and their food. Keep your pet quarantined inside the house with you, so that neither of you has any contact with people or animals outside your home.
What if my pet is sick? What signs should I look out for in my pet?
It is exceptionally rare for a dog or cat to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, and when they do, they do not usually show any symptoms. If your pet becomes sick during this time, it is likely not related to COVID-19. However, if your animal develops respiratory signs such as coughing, sneezing, exercise difficulty, or panting, please call our clinic and we will advise you further on the next steps to be taken.
Testing your pet for COVID-19 is not recommended, as the virus is transmitted from human to human. Further, testing kits are not available to veterinarians at this time. There is no licensed vaccine for COVID-19, and there is no proof that other animal coronavirus vaccines can help protect your pet.
Can the virus live on fur or pet hair?
The short answer is…maybe. COVID-19 is primarily transmitted by contact with a person’s droplets through coughing and sneezing. However, COVID-19 can be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface (indirect transmission). This includes doorknobs, elevator buttons, and other high-touch surfaces, followed by touching your face. Smooth surfaces (counter top, door knobs, pens) transmit the virus better than porous surfaces (paper money, pet fur), because the pores in these surfaces trap the virus and make it less exposed to other contact or touching. Pet hair is fibrous and porous, so it is unlikely that a person could get the virus by touching or playing with a pet, but a low risk exists nonetheless. However, if a pet has been in contact with an infected person, it is reasonable to assume that there is a risk in touching their coat, as the virus may survive on the coat for a few hours or longer. It is always advisable to wash your hands before and after touching an animal, make sure your pet is well groomed, and ensure that your pet’s bowls, bedding and toys are cleaned regularly.
How should I disinfect my pet if I am concerned about possible exposure or contamination by a sick or at risk individual? What is not safe to use on my pet?
Please DO NOT use any disinfecting products meant for household items or surfaces on your pet, such as Lysol sprays and wipes, bleach, or other surface cleaners! These can cause skin irritation and many of these cleaners contain toxic substances. If you have concerns about your pet being exposed to one of these substances, please call our clinic.
Pets can be bathed if you are concerned that they have been exposed to COVID-19 through a sick or at-risk individual. Use a pet shampoo that contains the ingredient “chlorhexidine”, and bathe them the same way that you would if they had gotten muddy in the backyard. If you have questions about what shampoo to use, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for advice.
Can I walk my dog right now? If so, what are some safe dog walking practices I should be following? What about outdoor cats?
Yes, you can walk your dog on leash and get some fresh air and exercise…as long as you do not have any COVID-19 symptoms or suspected exposure, and you stay more than 2 meters from any other person. Do not go to crowded places or dog parks – instead go for a walk on your street, or play fetch somewhere away from other people and their pets, such as a backyard.
For outdoor cats, although most keep to themselves, there is a risk that when you are not directly observing them they may interact with other people or animals. For this reason it is advisable to keep all cats indoors until the government recommended quarantine period is over. Supervised time in the backyard may be an alternative if you have one, but NEVER leave a cat unattended on a balcony – all it takes is one moment of curiosity or distraction for a cat to escape or have a fatal fall (even in cats that have never shown any interest in the balcony railing before).
Our pets are amazing stress relievers and provide a great amount of joy and happiness in our lives, especially right now when our interactions with family and friends are limited. We hope this has helped to answer your questions regarding your pets’ risk related to COVID-19, and rest assured that as we learn more we will update you on any important new developments. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any further questions!