Coronavirus and pets: Can my dog or cat get COVID-19?
Two cats in the US become the first confirmed cases of pets - here's everything we know about the current situation in our pets.
If you have been listening to the news recently and you are a pet parent, you may have heard some disturbing news about some dogs and cats testing positive, and even a tiger testing positive for COVID-19. You may be wondering if your pets can get sick or if you can get sick from your pets?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. These viruses have been around for a long time. In rare cases, they will jump from animals to humans. Scientists believe that the virus originated in Chinese horseshoe bats and then found its way into an intermediary animal host. Then found its way to humans. This appears to have occurred at the source of the COVID-19 pandemic in China from a live animal market. COVID-19 is incredibly successful at passing from person to person, and has currently infected over 2.6 million people in the world, and the numbers are rising.
As we get further into this pandemic, it appears that our dogs and cats may become infected from humans. Two dogs in Hong Kong tested positive with COVID-19, along with two other cats internationally. Two pet cats in New York state tested positive, marking the first US cases in companion animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and exotic species like tigers and lions have tested positive as well from the Bronx zoo. All of these animals appeared to be in contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19.
However, cases remain rare in our pets, even though there are millions of human cases being diagnosed. Because of this, it seems that transmission of the disease from humans to animals is low, with a small number of cases reported since the pandemic began. Most importantly, there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to their pet parents. The World Health Organization says there's "no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19."
Another important fact is that none of these pets that became infected naturally, died from the virus. A few of them showed respiratory signs, but appear to have fully recovered without any complications. Thus, the virus at this time does not appear to have severe affects on pet health, during the normal spread. Cats appear to be more likely to become infected with COVID-19 compared to dogs.
Scientists are currently studying the virus and how easily it is spread to cats and between cats. In their studies, kittens who were exposed to very high doses of COVID-19 succumbed to the disease, but adult cats were able to fight off the infection and survive. Also, the virus appeared to spread amongst cats, but this was in a research setting with high doses of the virus. Keep in mind these are not typical situations of coming into contact with the virus, but it shows us that we need to be careful with contact with our pets if we become sick with COVID-19.
Right now it is very stressful for many people, between the recession, people becoming sick and many dying, and now worrying that we can make our pets sick and possibly vice versa.
Can I get COVID-19 from my pet?
There is still a lot we are learning about in regards to the transmission of coronavirus from us to our pets and back to us. But this is the most important point to bring to every pet parents' attention: There is a lack of evidence that coronavirus is spread by pets and companion animals to humans.
Many people are wondering if you can pick up COVID-19 from your pet's fur? The risk is small but still possible. The coronavirus can survive on surfaces and is also spread by droplets. So if someone were to sneeze that is infected around the animal, the droplets could be on the fur. Because of this, you want to always wash your hands BEFORE and AFTER touching your pet, especially if you are feeling unwell. "People appear to pose more risk to their pets than they do to us," said Glenn Browning, a veterinary microbiologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
How can I protect my pet?
If you are not feeling well, the first thing you should do is contact your doctor and see if you can get tested to determine if you have COVID-19. If you are feeling unwell, the recommendation from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to "restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people."
The best method of protection remains prevention. There are a huge number of resources available from the WHO on reducing your chance of infection. Here are some key measures to take:
Wash your hands: For 20 seconds (sing happy birthday to yourself)!
Maintain social distancing: This means being 6 feet away from another person (the length of a dog leash - not retractable lead!)
Avoid touching your face, eyes or mouth: This is how the virus infects you
Cough and sneeze into your elbow!
Wear a facemask when you go out into public
Wear a facemask at home if you are unwell or know you have COVID to limit the spread to other family members and pets
Also remember: If your pet needs medical care, make sure you inform your veterinarian if you or a household member is ill with COVID-19. That information will allow your veterinarian to take adequate precautions and stay safe. And do not take your pet into the veterinarian if you are sick, find a neighbor, friend or family member that can help you.
Can I walk my dog?
Walking a dog is important for both you and your pets' well-being. Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet (length of a typical leash) from other people and pets, do not gather in groups, and stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings. Do not go to dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather. To help maintain social distancing, do not let other people pet your dog when you are out for a walk.
Can I get my pet tested for COVID-19?
Currently, there is only selected testing occurring for pets based on symptoms and potential exposure. The veterinarian and public health officials will make the decision if a test is needed. Remember, if you are infected and your pet is displaying symptoms, you need to call your veterinarian first and not take them in yourself. Many veterinarians are doing telemedicine calls right now to make sure your pet truly needs to be seen.
For more information make sure you go to the CDC website or the AVMA website for the most up to date pet health:
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*Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Dr. Katie Woodley cannot answer specific questions about your pet's medical issues or make medical recommendations for your pet without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.