I think it is time that I address the general concern regarding this novel coronavirus and pets. I have intentionally stayed away from writing anything on this subject as it is such an ever changing situation, and I am honestly not interested in spreading accidental misinformation. In light of the recent reports of a small number of animals testing positive, and the rising concerns of the general animal owning population, I think that it is important to explain what we know so far on the veterinary side of things. I really want to make clear that it is very possible that as we learn more things may change, but at this point I will do my best to explain what we have found as a veterinary profession to date in regards to SARS-CoV-2 and animals.
We need to start by discussing what this virus is, and what we know about it in humans briefly. SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) is the actual name of the virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019). At the time of my writing this I found that there have been 1,210,956 confirmed cases in humans, and 67,594 related deaths according to the World Health Organization (this will have changed by the time this is published). It appears the virus spreads amongst humans through contact of an infected person’s bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucous droplets in a cough or sneeze. It also appears that there is possible spread through touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching the mouth, nose, or even possibly the eyes. At this point in time there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 spreads to humans through contact with animal fur or skin.
Historically, coronaviruses have been noted to cause various diseases in numerous animal species including: swine, cattle, horses, camels, cats, dogs, rodents, birds, bats, rabbits, ferrets, mink, and various wildlife species. It appears that it may be possible for some species of animal to become infected with this novel coronavirus, although it appears highly unlikely. It appears to be incredibly uncommon for this to spread from humans to animals if you look at the numbers to date. I listed above that there are 1,210,956 confirmed cases in humans so far, and to be honest I have no idea how many households with pets that number means, but I suspect it is a lot. So far to date there are only 5 confirmed cases in animals. There were 2 dogs in Hong Kong that tested positive, one cat in Hong Kong, one cat in Belgium, and now one tiger at the Bronx Zoo. This means that with all of the disease present in the human population we have only found 5 animals with the disease so far, and there have been no cases of animal to human transmission.
What does the disease look like in dogs and cats so far? The first case reported (2/27/20) was in a 17 year old Pomeranian whose owner had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Hong Kong. The dog initially tested weakly positive for the virus, and later antibody testing showed that the dog did appear to develop an immune response to the virus. This dog was quarantined, and never showed any signs of respiratory disease during the quarantine period. The second case (3/18/20) was reported in a 2 year old German Shepherd whose owner tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong. There was another dog that lived in the same household that never tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and both dogs have been quarantined together. Neither of the dogs have shown any signs of respiratory disease, and they continue to be monitored. The third case (3/18/20) was in a cat in Belgium living with a human who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The virus was detected in the feces and vomit of a cat with respiratory and gastrointestinal signs. There are still some questions around this case, but we suspect this is likely a case of true infection. The fourth case (3/31/20) was a cat in Hong Kong living with a confirmed COVID-19 patient. This cat is currently in quarantine, and has not shown any signs of disease to date. The fifth case (4/5/20) is a tiger in the Bronx Zoo. Several lions and tigers had exhibited some signs of respiratory illness, and SARS-CoV-2 was detected in one tiger. It is suspected that the cats become sick after exposure to a human actively shedding the virus. At this time all of the big cats are expected to recover, and it does not appear that any other animals in the zoo are showing clinical signs.
So, I know that these are scary times for everyone, but please do not get rid of your pets because you are worried they are going to get you or your family sick. In reality, it appears that they may want to get rid of us dirty humans (I’m just kidding of course, kind of). There is still a lot we need to learn about this virus, and there is some human to animal transmission it appears, but no animal to human transmission has been recorded to date.
It is still a good idea to be safe when interacting with your pets though, and below are the guidelines listed by the AVMA.
- Anyone without symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to practice good hygiene during interactions with animals. Wash hands before or after interactions or handling animal food, waste, or supplies.
- Those ill with Covid-19 should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. Have another member of your household or business take care of feeding or otherwise caring for any animals, including pets. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, then wear a cloth facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them, and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.
- There have been no reports of pets or livestock becoming ill with COVID-19 in the United States (tigers are not classified as pets). At this point in time, there is no evidence that domestic animals, including pets and livestock, can spread COVID-19 to people.
I hope that this helps alleviate some of the fear that I have heard expressed in regards to animals and COVID-19 lately. This is an ever evolving situation, and I will do my best to try to keep you all updated as more information is made available. We will get through this as a community, and we at Ohana Animal Hospital are still here to help as we can. Please feel free to email or contact us with your questions regarding this subject. I did not comment on all of the papers out so far (there are 2 from China so far, but the sample sizes are very small, the studies are not peer-reviewed, and the cases describe experimental infection which may not correlate to natural infection that well), but as more information is obtained I may discuss further. For now, this is enough I think. Stay at home, enjoy the time with your family, and be good to one another.
Lastly, has anyone else realized how much respect teachers deserve?? I’m pretty sure my 5 year old daughter is smarter than I am, and a lesson plan that takes me 30 minutes to design gets completed in about 1 minute, and then I have no clue what to do. When this is all over I am going to make sure to hug all of the teachers. You all make my job look simple by comparison.