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Let's talk about pets and COVID-19

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

This was written in collaboration with one of my old UMass students, (almost Dr.) Sarah Wilson who will finish her DVM in a few weeks!

I have been reluctant to write on this topic, but, as news will break in the coming day(s) that animals can catch SARS-CoV2, I want to get out in front of it.

For a few weeks there had been stories roaming around the internet that pets can get infected with SARS-CoV2 and transmit it to humans. From those few stories, veterinarians have been inundated with questions of whether their pets can make them sick. There have also been some terrible stories emerging from China of authorities killing people’s pets in an effort to control the virus.

So it’s time to set the story straight, and hopefully dispel any fears people may have or will get when the media get ahold of this.

The summary:

  • Dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks are all safe.

  • Cats and ferrets are potential reservoirs of infection.

Let’s start with Dogs.

Dogs cannot catch SARS-CoV2. If you are infected, you can’t infect your dog. Two dogs playing in the park cannot transmit the virus from one to the other (and then to you).

Is there any risk from dogs?

Your dog, however, can be a conduit to transfer the virus on its fur. A dog’s fur, just like cloths, can trap and retain infected respiratory droplets or larger particles. There is a small, but theoretical possibility that if an infected person coughed or sneezed on their hand, then patted your dog that the virus could be retained on their fur. However, animal coats have natural antiviral (and antibacterial) properties that would restrict the ability of a coronavirus like SARS-CoV2 to survive for very long.

It is likely, the two earlier media reports of dogs being weakly positive for SARS-CoV2, were from the virus being ‘stuck’ to dog from their infected owner.

Bottom line: Dogs are not a reservoir for infection, and they are very unlikely to be a conduit to bring the virus in your home. If you want to be ultrasafe, limit the people who pet your dog, but you can feel safe with letting your dog play with other dogs.

If you have a person in your house who is infected, you should restrict interaction with the dog as the dog's fur may act as a transport vehicle which allows the virus to jump to other members of the household.

Now to cats.

Cats can be infected with SARS-CoV2. Infected cats can transmit the virus to other cats efficiently. Obviously, there have been no studies to determine if they can infect people, but given the virus was isolated in the respiratory regions of the cat, it is likely cats can be infected and transmit the virus to us. Cats demonstrate very similar COVID-19 symptoms to humans, coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, and lethargy.

This is where people will overreact. STOP. THINK. or let me think for you.

  • Your cat can’t infect you if it’s not infected.

  • If you have an indoor cat, your cat can not be infected if you didn’t bring the virus into your house

  • In order for your outdoor cat to be infected, an infected person must have been close enough to your cat and then coughed sneezed etc on it, for your cat to have a chance to be infected.

Bottom line: To be safe, for time being your cat should be kept inside. This is most critical if your cat is friendly to everyone, you live in a high density area, and there is a high prevalence of COVID-19 in your community. In low density areas, rural and suburbs, or if your cat hates everyone but you, and the prevalence of disease is low in your community, then the risk is very low.

If you have a person in your house who is infected, you should keep the cat away from them. The cat could get sick, and the cat could transmit the virus others inside your house.

I am happy to answer questions, but for the best advice on CoVID-19 and pets, please see the special section at the American Veterinary Medical Association. They will be updating their data soon to reflect this finding.


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