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Coronavirus and Pets: What You Need to Know

“Can I give COVID-19 to my dog or cat?” “Can I get it from them?” Here are some answers to questions you may have, plus lots of helpful information.

Can I give COVID-19 to my dog or cat?
At least 2 pet cats and 1 dog in the United States have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Photo: Engin_Akyurt

COVID-19 is the name of the flu-like illness that is currently affecting and scaring people all over the world. This illness is caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

It is being called a “novel” coronavirus simply because it is new and was not previously identified. That also means we don’t know everything there is to know about it yet.

There are multiple human coronaviruses that we have known about and many other coronaviruses that affect pets and other animals. The virus that causes COVID-19 most likely came from an animal, possibly a bat or a pangolin, at a Wuhan wildlife market on mainland China. This new coronavirus has nothing to do, however, with the usual coronaviruses that affect our pets.

Questions People With Pets May Have About the Coronavirus

Can I give COVID-19 to my cat?

Possibly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on April 22 that 2 pet cats in different areas of New York state have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. These mark the first confirmed cases in companion animals in the United States.

Previously, on April 5, Nadia, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, tested positive. Now a total of 8 big cats — Nadia, 4 other tigers and 3 lions — have tested positive. These add to the small amount of animals tested and confirmed worldwide.

The domestic cats in New York live in separate households. Both cats exhibited respiratory illness and are expected to recover fully. In one case, it is unclear how the cat contracted the virus since no household members were confirmed to have COVID-19. The second cat belongs to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 before the cat started showing respiratory signs.

As The New York Times has pointed out, “Testing positive [for the virus] does not mean the cats have the same illness that people have. Nor does it mean that the cats can pass on the illness to people.”

Cats are most likely more susceptible to this coronavirus than dogs.

What about dogs? Can I give COVID-19 to my dog?

Possibly. On April 27, researchers announced that a Pug in North Carolina tested positive for the coronavirus. The dog’s symptoms were mild and short-lasting. The dog may have simply “licked something or someone with the virus, causing him to test positive, but that did not mean that the virus was in his bloodstream,” according to an article by The New York Times.

Weeks earlier, in late February, a case emerged in Hong Kong where a pet dog tested positive for low levels of viral material and most likely got it from the woman who cared for the dog. That 17-year-old dog had no symptoms, was not sick, and the amount of virus in the dog weakened over time as the dog remained in quarantine.

As the fact-checking site Full Fact pointed out, some experts question whether the dog in Hong Kong ever really had the virus at all — or if the dog had “simply licked contaminated surfaces in the home,” setting off false-positive test results.

Two days after being released from quarantine, this little geriatric dog died at home, according to reports. An autopsy was refused. Authorities in Hong Kong maintain that the dog remained healthy while in quarantine.

Although we will never know what killed this poor little 17-year-old pup, the dog had pre-existing conditions. It is highly possible that stress, lack of specific veterinary medical attention or pre-existing conditions — or any combination of these risk factors — could have caused the dog to die under such strenuous circumstances.

Finally, there was another positive dog in Hong Kong, a healthy 2-year-old German Shepherd, who showed no symptoms, according to officials. Only time and extensive sampling and testing will tell us more about human-to-canine transmission of COVID-19.

Can I get the COVID-19 illness from my dog or cat?

Unknown. While it is likely that the COVID-19 virus originated from a wild animal in China, there is no evidence, according to the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), that pets can spread the illness the way it is spread from human to human.

The CDC has said, “There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus.”

In other words, if your dog or cat sneezes on you or licks your face, the experts strongly believe you can’t get this virus from that as you would human-to-human contact.

“We don’t want people to panic. We don’t want people to be afraid of pets” or rush to test them, Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh of the CDC told The Guardian. “There’s no evidence that pets are playing a role in spreading this disease to people.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top medical adviser on the corona task force, expressed the same at a press briefing on April 22. While Fauci said “there’s no evidence that the virus is transmitted from pet to a human,” he added that “anything is possible.”

Be aware that pets could still serve as a conduit of infection. This means pets could have the virus on their bodies if they have been living in an environment that is heavily contaminated with the virus. Just as the virus can be on a door knob, your pet could have virus on their coat. In theory, that means you could contract the virus if you touched them and then put your hand on your face or in your mouth. The risk of this happening is believed to be low.

You are continually being told to wash your hands and don’t touch your face in order to protect yourself from contracting the virus. Please be cautious and wash your hands after touching your pets.

Are canine and feline coronaviruses different from the COVID-19 virus?

Yes. Canine coronavirus causes diarrhea in dogs only. There is a vaccine for dogs to protect them from canine coronavirus. That vaccine does not protect and cannot be used against the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

Cats with the feline coronavirus are usually asymptomatic, have mild diarrhea or rarely develop a serious coronavirus disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). This is a cat-specific coronavirus and has nothing to do with COVID-19.

What should I do with my pets right now during the pandemic?

“Until we learn more about how this virus affects animals, treat pets as you would other human family members to protect them from a possible infection,” says the CDC.

The CDC advises doing 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 feel your pet needs to see a veterinarian for a health issue, please consider whether it’s truly necessary. For more on this, see my article “Going to the Vet During COVID-19: Is It Essential?”

What if I’m sick with COVID-19? How can I care for my pet while I am sick?

If you are sickened by the coronavirus, the CDC advises isolating yourself away from your pet — as well as human family members, of course.

  • 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.

Good hygiene also protects you from common bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can be transmitted to you from your pets. The last thing you need if you are already sick is to be infected with another disease.

Should I put a mask on my pet to protect them from the coronavirus?

A mask on your dog or cat will not protect them or you from contracting or spreading the virus. It will only upset your pet.

Face masks should be used by people who are sick or have the virus. The Journal of the American Medical Association puts it this way:

“Face masks should not be worn by healthy individuals to protect themselves from acquiring respiratory infection because there is no evidence to suggest that face masks worn by healthy individuals are effective in preventing people from becoming ill.”

COVID-19 Testing for Pets

Disease in domestic cats seems to come with mild to moderate respiratory signs and does not seem to be life threatening.

Routine testing of animals for COVID-19 is not recommended by the national animal health associations or the CDC. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals. This decision should be made collaboratively between the attending veterinarian and local, state and/or federal public health and animal health officials.

For more on this, see our related article, “COVID-19 Test for Pets: 10 Facts You Need to Know.”

In the future, once the height of this pandemic is controlled, surveillance testing of pets will most likely occur, in an ongoing attempt to better understand the virus.

“If you are sick with COVID-19 and your pet becomes sick, do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself,” says the CDC. “Call your veterinarian and let them know you have been sick with COVID-19. Some veterinarians may offer telemedicine consultations or other plans for seeing sick pets. Your veterinarian can evaluate your pet and determine the next steps for your pet’s treatment and care.”

Avoid Feeling Panic

Once the news was out that a dog tested positive in Hong Kong, people panicked.

The Hong Kong government recommended quarantining pets in households where someone was infected. People tried to hide their pets, place them in other households, even get them out of the country. Some people actually considered euthanasia.

On mainland China, the panic was much worse.

Although reports are difficult to verify, it is clear that thousands of pets in China were left in apartments and houses when people were quarantined or prevented from returning home due to travel restrictions. Many people also abandoned their pets for fear of transmission. Unsubstantiated reports also describe unnecessary killing of pets.

This video explains more about the coronavirus and pets:

YouTube player

Silver Linings in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Concern is mounting daily in this country as the confusion over the coronavirus and the confirmed cases mount.

This is the time to cherish your pets, not consider them dangerous or in danger.

If you are watching the news, it’s easy to get extremely stressed or, yes, even feel a bit of panic. The United States is still behind in testing, and as we test more people, there will be many more positives.

This stress and worry is bad for your health. It can lower your immune response.

And you know what? Your pets are a great stress reliever. They love your attention, and you need their love right now more than ever!

Social distancing and stepping up personal hygiene are the biggest things you can do to protect yourself. Many of you might be spending more time working from home or simply being at home. A small silver lining in all of this is that you can spend more time with your pets!

If you have COVID-19 or think you do, enjoy your pets from a safe distance and step up your hygiene around them.

For the well-being of all animals, this horrible spread of coronavirus from the illegal selling of wildlife might finally put a permanent end or greatly decrease the wildlife trade as we know it.

Consider a Contingency Plan

Think ahead in case you become sick.

Call your doctor and discuss your symptoms before you rush off to a medical office or to an emergency room. Remember that most healthy people who contract COVID-19 can and should remain at home and recover. It is true that symptoms are often no worse than a common or bad cold.

“Some people infected with the virus have no symptoms,” reports Harvard Medical School. “When the virus does cause symptoms, common ones include low-grade fever, body aches, coughing, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat. However, COVID-19 can occasionally cause more severe symptoms like high fever, severe cough and shortness of breath, which often indicates pneumonia.”

In many households, a family member will be able to attend to you and your pet’s needs while you recover. If you live alone, however, you and your pet may need a little extra help, so try to think about this now without panic. For more on this, see “What Happens to My Pet If I Catch COVID-19?”

Friends and neighbors, family members, and pet lovers can band together and get us through this.


vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. This article was originally published on March 13, 2020, and is regularly updated. It was last reviewed for accuracy and updated on April 29, 2020.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.