In the US, a Pug named Winston tested positive for COVID-19 recently. Winston’s family members, two of whom are front-line healthcare workers, had tested positive for the virus earlier. Also, two pet cats in New York, and a couple of exotic felines, like tigers and lions, have tested positive for the disease.
These incidents, though far and few, have been widely reported in the media and raised valid concerns about coronavirus in pets and whether the virus can pass between pets and people.
Are you worried your pet is likely to get infected and spread the infection to you?
The answer, at least for now, is no!
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there’s no evidence that a dog, cat, or any pet can transmit COVID-19. However, with a few rare cases of pets testing positive, it is essential to learn about proper pet care to keep your companion animals safe during the pandemic.
In the next few sections, we will share research-backed information to answer your concerns around coronavirus in animals and share useful tips to keep yourself and your pets from getting infected by the virus.
Pets and COVID-19: How Does COVID-19 Affect Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets?
SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus at the center of the pandemic, is not particularly selective when it comes to potential hosts. The virus infects a host by injecting itself into cells by binding to a cell surface protein ACE2, which is present in several animal species. A few reported cases and clinical studies have linked the human transmission of the disease to an endangered animal species, pangolin, leading to concerns about animal-to-human transfer, and more specifically, pet-to-human transfers.
Professor Jacqui Norris, from the Sydney School of Veterinary Science at The University of Sydney, puts these fears to rest by explaining that the handful of pets that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were living with infected human owners.
The timing of the positive result points to human-to-animal transfer, and these companion animals are not involved in the spread of infection in humans. The professor added that the virus culture on these pets was negative, meaning that an active virus was not present.
Results from the experiments conducted at IDEXX Laboratories in the USA corroborate Professor Norris’ thoughts. The leading veterinary diagnostics lab has not found any SARS-CoV-2 positive results in the thousands of dogs and cats tested to date.
Cats and Coronavirus
According to Prof Gilles Guillemin, Co-Director of the MND and Neurodegenerative diseases at Macquarie University, “SARS-CoV-2 replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks, but efficiently in ferrets and cats.”
In China, researchers at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute also found cats to be more susceptible to catching COVID-19 and transmitting to other felines via respiratory droplets. In comparison, dogs seem to be more resistant to the virus and don’t seem to pass on the infection to their brethren.
However, it must be borne in mind that the Harbin Lab study administered very high doses of the virus to the subjects, which does not correspond to the real exposure they may receive in real life. This means the risk of getting infected remains extremely low, even in cats, but higher as compared to dogs. Also, there’s no evidence that household pets can transmit the infection to humans.
How Does COVID-19 Affect Livestock and Caged Pets?
Presently, there are no reported COVID-19 cases in livestock animals. Still, a recent study in Microbes and Infection suggested that SARS-CoV-2 might utilize pangolin, cat, cow, buffalo, goat, sheep, and pigeon ACE2s, indicating potential interspecies transmission of the virus from bats to and among these animals. Note that the study reiterates that these are just preliminary results, and there is no still no evidence of interspecies transfer from companion animals to humans.
For caged exotic pets like birds and reptiles, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) maintains that there is no proof that domestic animals play a role in the spread of COVID-19. This includes pets and livestock that may be incidentally infected by humans.
COVID-19: How Not to Be a Threat to Your Pet?
According to experts, there’s limited evidence that companion animals can be infected with SARS-Cov-2 and no evidence that pet dogs and cats can be a source of infection to humans or other animals. But with the situation rapidly evolving, it is best to follow preventive measures to keep your pets from getting exposed to the virus.
- The CDC recommends you to restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are infected with COVID-19, exactly like you would around people. If possible, have another member of the family care for your pet while you are recovering from the disease.
- If you must be around your pet or care for it, make sure you wash your hands before and after interacting with it. Wear a face mask, and avoid direct contact like petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.
- Don’t let your pets interact with people or other animals outside the household. Keep cats indoors and maintain a distance of at least 6-feet from others when walking your dogs. If possible, avoid dog parks or public places with a large crowd.
If you are maintaining good pet care and hygiene and following the social distancing norms, both you and your pet are potentially safe. There’s no reason to remove your beloved pets from home, even if someone in the household has tested positive for COVID-19.
The FDA website points out that ferrets, cats, and golden Syrian hamsters can be experimentally infected with the virus and potentially infect other animals of the same species in laboratory settings. When it comes to dogs and coronavirus, they are not as likely to catch the virus as cats and ferrets. Pigs, chickens, and ducks don’t seem susceptible to COVID-19 for now.
Above all, none of the experiments on pets and COVID-19 show that animals can spread the infection to humans. In all likelihood, your dear pets are safe, and there is no need to abandon or leave them out of the house.
Be a responsible pet parent by caring for your animals in these tough times and maintain healthy habits around them. Contact your local veterinarian if your pet becomes sick or injured or comes in contact with someone infected with the virus. At GreatVet, we connect you with the best vets in your area to ensure the best possible care for your furry friends. Visit our website to connect with top local veterinarians for every need of your pet.
Will this change with the Economy Opening Up?
Agreed that during the lockdown it was easier to assume that since your pet is not going to encounter a lot of people and everyone was staying indoors, the chances of transmission were low. The question now is – Is it the same now? Veterinarians are taking precautions keeping in mind that all the pets who did not visit them during the lockdown will be in the clinic as they open up. You can contact your vet if still in doubt about the steps being taken by them. Also taking the dog out for a walk or the cat going outside cannot be controlled forever. Pet parents have to take the necessary precautions about Social Distancing as well as about sanitizing themselves and the pets after returning from a walk before getting into the house. These are simple measures but with a very high impact on the safety of your pet and yourself and your family.