COVID-19 has surprised scientists at every turn. When they seem to have it figured out, a new syndrome develops, or another group of people become affected. Despite being originally transmitted from a bat to a human, COVID-19 did not seem to affect animals—until recently. Now, several pets across the globe have tested positive, some with respiratory illness, which may cause you concern for your furry friend. Although we are still learning about the novel coronavirus and our uncertain future, we want to share the facts regarding what we currently know about animals, COVID-19, and your pet’s risk.
#1: A small number of pets have tested positive for COVID-19
The first pets to test positive for COVID-19 were two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong, who were being held in quarantine because their owners had tested positive. None of these pets developed illness, and subsequently tested negative. Since then, several other pets have tested positive, with the results confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL), including:
- Two New York cats — Two cats living in different households in New York tested positive after developing mild respiratory illness. One cat lived with several family members who had previously tested positive for COVID-19. The other cat was an indoor-outdoor cat whose owner did not develop symptoms, and was never tested; however, they lived in an area with a high number of cases. Both cats are expected to make a full recovery.
- Eight large cats at the Bronx zoo — Five tigers and three lions at the Bronx zoo also tested positive after developing mild respiratory illness. One zookeeper subsequently tested positive, but was asymptomatic at the time of exposure.
- Mink at Netherlands farms — Mink on four Netherlands farms tested positive after farmers noticed an increase in gastrointestinal and respiratory illness, and overall mortality. Several caretakers at each farm had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and are believed to have passed the virus to the animals. Mink are not kept as pets, but they are closely related to ferrets, who have been shown through scientific investigation to be susceptible to the virus.
#2: Your pet’s risk of infection is extremely low
What does all this mean for your pet? Although pets apparently can become infected, the likelihood of your pet developing COVID-19 is minimal. To date, almost 1.5 million U.S. human COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, with only a handful of pet cases. At this point, pet infections are not likely to dramatically increase, so your pet’s risk of infection will probably remain low.
#3: To be safe, you should take precautions to prevent infection in your pet
Although your pet will probably not become infected, the CDC recommends that you take precautions to ensure their safety, including:
- Practicing social distancing — Prevent your pet from interacting with people outside your household by keeping cats indoors, walking your dog on a leash while maintaining a six-foot distance from others, and avoiding dog parks and pet stores.
- Restricting contact if you become sick — If you develop COVID-19, or respiratory signs, have another family member care for your pet to prevent unnecessary contact. If you live alone, having someone outside your home care for your pet is not necessary, or recommended, unless you are too sick. While sick, you should have minimal contact with your pet, wear a face covering, and wash your hands before and after handling them, or their food.
- Practicing good hygiene — Avoid close contact with your pet, such as snuggling, petting, and sharing bedding or food.
#4: No cases of pet-to-human transmission have been reported
Despite possible human-to-pet transmission, the reverse does not seem to hold true, with no cases of pet-to-human transmission reported to date. Although this seems unlikely to change, we will continue to monitor this situation. Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend following the above guidelines to keep yourself, and your pet, healthy.
#5: Your pet likely does not need to be tested for COVID-19
If your pet is not sick, it is not recommended they be tested for COVID-19. If your pet develops respiratory signs, call us to schedule an appointment, so we can thoroughly evaluate your pet’s condition. We can test for COVID-19, although pets can develop a number of respiratory illnesses that are more likely the culprit. Let us know if your pet has had contact with anyone known to be infected with the virus, as this will guide our diagnostic testing, and our safety practices.
We are still open for your pet’s health care needs.
Your pet’s health care is important to our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, and we have remained open to provide essential services to our pets and pet owners. If your pet needs veterinary care, whether for vaccines or illness signs, call us to make an appointment with Dr. White.
We are here for your family members—two- and four-legged—during this uncertain time. Contact us if you have questions about your pet and COVID-19, or other healthcare concerns.