Since the World Health Organisation declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (also known as CoVID-19) a global health emergency, you might have been wondering if this virus could be transmitted to your pet. This article pulls information from a variety of international sources to discuss the risk of your pet becoming infected with COVID-19.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have all stated that they do not believe this current strain of coronavirus that has been affecting humans, can be passed from humans to companion animals, or from animals to humans. However, they have suggested that if your pet has been in contact with a person who has been confirmed to have coronavirus, that you should call your veterinarian to discuss your next steps.
Despite not believing to be susceptible to this particular strain of coronavirus, both cats and dogs can be infected with other types of coronavirus. One type that affects dogs is canine respiratory coronavirus, which can cause an acute upper respiratory infection. And feline enteric coronavirus, which is one type that affects cats, can lead to a cat developing a disease known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
Both types of coronavirus that can affect dogs are more commonly found in places where large numbers of dogs are housed together, such as in shelters or kennels. There are vaccines available to protect your dog against coronavirus infection, but you should speak to your veterinarian about whether your dog requires these vaccines. The Australian Veterinary Association does not recommend that dogs are vaccinated against coronavirus.
Feline coronavirus is a fairly common viral infection in cats. Most cats that are infected do not show any symptoms. Those that do usually suffer from vomiting or diarrhoea. Just like in dogs, it spreads easily between cats that are living in close contact such as in a shelter or kennel. The best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection between cats is to regularly scoop litter boxes and to use appropriate disinfectants when cleaning. A vaccine for coronavirus in cats is available in Australia.
Caring For Your Pet When You Are Unwell
Thee are some simple steps you can follow to prevent the spread of illness to your pet. If you or others who care for your pets are unwell, you should avoid handling your pets or wear a face mask if you must be around animals. Thorough hand washing with soap and water for around 20 seconds is always recommended after handling animals to prevent the spread of bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. To prevent the spread of highly contagious viruses and bacteria between animals, protective wear such as disposable aprons and shoe covers are also recommended.
If you have read this article and are still concerned about coronavirus affecting your pet, the best person to speak to is your veterinarian.
Update from WSAVA on 7 March 2020
Reports from Hong Kong on February 28 indicated that the pet dog of an infected patient had tested "weakly positive" to COVID-19 after routine testing. On March 5, the Hong Kong SAR Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that nasal, oral, rectal and faecal samples from the dog have been tested. On February 26 and 28, oral and nasal swabs were positive, while on March 2, only nasal swabs showed positive results. The rectal and faecal samples tested negative on all three occasions.
Testing at both the government veterinary laboratory (AFCD) and the WHO accredited diagnostic human CoV laboratory at Hong Kong University (HKU) detected a low viral load in the nasal and oral swabs. Both laboratories used the real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method and the results indicate that there was a small quantity of COVID-19 viral RNA in the samples. It does not, however, indicate whether the samples contain intact virus particles which are infectious, or just fragments of the RNA, which are not contagious.
The dog, which is showing no relevant clinical signs, was removed from the household, which was the possible source of contamination on 26 February. Retesting was performed after the dog was put under quarantine to determine whether the dog was in fact infected or whether its mouth and nose were being contaminated with COVID-19 virus from the household.
The AFCD's document states that the "weak positive" result from the nasal sample taken 5 days after the dog was removed from the possible source of contamination suggests that the dog has a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission. However, there is still no evidence at this time that mammalian pet animals including dogs and cats can be a source of infection to other animals or humans.
Update from American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) on 7 April 2020
While two dogs (Hong Kong) and two cats (one in Belgium and one in Hong Kong) living with people diagnosed with COVID-19 have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, other dogs and cats also living with infected people remain uninfected. New research articles have been posted to open-access sites on an almost daily basis that describe preliminary results suggesting some domestic animals can be experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2 and may transmit the virus to other animals in an experimental setting or mount a viral-specific immune response when exposed to SARS-CoV-2. However, caution should be taken to not over-interpret results described in such articles, some of which may report on data from a very small number of animals or provide only preliminary results, and not extrapolate those results to the potential for SARS-CoV-2 to naturally infect or be transmitted by companion animals kept as pets. To date the CDC has not received any reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States. Infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations continue to agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that, under natural conditions, pets spread COVID-19 to people.
The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories has also confirmed the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in one tiger at a zoo in New York. This is the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19. Several lions and tigers at the zoo showed clinical signs of respiratory illness and this tiger was tested accordingly. Public health employees believe the large cats became ill after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. All of the large cats are expected to recover. No other animals in other areas of the zoo are exhibiting similar clinical signs. USDA and CDC are monitoring this situation and the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) will be notified of the finding.
Update from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on 22 April 2020
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) today announced the first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infection in two pet cats. These are the first pets in the United States to test positive for SARS-CoV-2.
The cats live in two separate areas of New York state. Both had mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery. SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in very few animals worldwide, mostly in those that had close contact with a person with COVID-19.
At this time, routine testing of animals is not recommended. Should other animals be confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, USDA will post the findings. State animal health and public health officials will take the lead in making determinations about whether animals should be tested for SARS-CoV-2.
In the NY cases announced today, a veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs. No individuals in the household were confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. The virus may have been transmitted to this cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home.
Samples from the second cat were taken after it showed signs of respiratory illness. The owner of the cat tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the cat showing signs. Another cat in the household has shown no signs of illness.
Both cats tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a private veterinary laboratory, which then reported the results to state and federal officials. The confirmatory testing was conducted at NVSL and included collection of additional samples. NVSL serves as an international reference laboratory and provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques, as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases. Such testing is required for certain animal diseases in the U.S. in order to comply with national and international reporting procedures. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) considers SARS-CoV-2 an emerging disease, and therefore USDA must report confirmed U.S. animal infections to the OIE.
Public health officials are still learning about SARS-CoV-2, but there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected.
Until we know more, CDC recommends the following:
- Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
- Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
- Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
- Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.
- When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
- Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
- If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
While additional animals may test positive as infections continue in people, it is important to note that performing this animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans.
For more information on animals and COVID-19, see: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html
For more information about testing in animals, see: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf