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Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH & Anne Kimmerlein, DVM, MPVM, DACVPM

Infectious Diseases, Medical Conditions, Zoonosis & Human Health, Pet Services

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2, that has not previously been identified. This virus is not the same coronavirus that can cause the common cold in humans, nor is it the same as canine coronavirus (CCoV) or feline coronavirus (FCoV).

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses characterized by crown-like spikes on their surface as seen under the microscope. There are many viruses in this family that cause various types of diseases in humans and animals, such as diarrhea and upper respiratory infections.

Can my pet be affected by COVID-19?

At this time, there is limited evidence that pets can become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and no evidence that any animal or pet can infect humans with the new coronavirus.

"At this time, there is no evidence that any animal or pet can infect humans with the new coronavirus."

What about the dog that tested positive for COVID-19 and later died?

A 17-year-old Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 in late February. This dog never became ill or had any symptoms of COVID-19. After being returned to his owner, the dog passed away. The cause of this dog’s death is unknown and the owners have declined to have a necropsy conducted. However, because of the dog’s advanced age, he was likely near the end of his natural life. Infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they can spread it to other animals or people.

What about the cat in Belgium that tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19?

A cat in Belgium owned by a person with COVID-19 tested positive for the virus. The cat developed diarrhea, vomiting and respiratory difficulty about 1 week after the owner got sick. At this time, it’s unclear whether the cat was sick because of the virus that causes COVID-19 or whether it had some other co-incidental problem. At this time, there is no reason to believe that cats can spread the virus to other animals or people. If you are sick, stay away from animals just like you would other people. If you have COVID-19 and have been around your pets, keep your pets inside and away from other people. While the risk of transmission to or from a pet is very low, we don’t want an exposed pet tracking this virus out of the household (just like we don’t want an infected person doing that).

How is COVID-19 transmitted?

Current evidence suggests that person-to-person spread is the main source of infection. This occurs through respiratory droplets created when an infected person sneezes or coughs. There is also a possibility of spread via objects or surfaces that have been exposed to the virus; however, this is not suspected as a main source of infection.

If I get sick, is it safe for me to care for my pets?

There is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they can spread it to other animals or people. If you have been diagnosed with Covid-19, public health officials recommend you restrict contact with pets as a precaution until more information is known about the virus. If possible, have another member of your household care for your pet. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on fur. If you have a service animal or you must provide care for your pet yourself, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them.

If you are not ill with COVID-19, you may interact with your pet as you normally would, including walking them on a leash, feeding them, and playing with them.

What if my pet shows symptoms (coughing, fever, chills) of human coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There is limited evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 and NO evidence that they can spread it to other animals or people. If your pet shows any signs of illness, such as coughing, sneezing or lethargy, call (or text) your veterinarian to arrange treatment. Signs of illness in dogs and cats are usually associated with various common viral and bacterial infections (kennel cough, canine flu, etc.) that are neither coronaviruses nor transmissible to people.

Should my pet wear a face mask as a precaution?

No. First, it is unlikely that this will protect your pet from any potential disease transmission. Second, it can cause breathing difficulties, especially in certain breeds of cats and dogs. Third, masks must be saved for use in people with active signs of infection and medical professionals.

Is there a vaccine?

Currently, a vaccine for COVID-19 is not available. There is a vaccine for the canine coronavirus (CCoV), however, this vaccine does not work to protect you or your pet from COVID-19.

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