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Can cats and dogs get coronavirus?

A dog has tested positive for COVID-19. How worried should we be?

 

The government of Hong Kong recently reported that a dog had tested “weak positive” for COVID-19. Should we be worried about our pets?

 

corona virus drawingPeople around the globe are rightfully concerned about the how the coronavirus will affect all of our lives in the near future. Many of us are worried not just about the potential risks for humankind, but for the animals we love, too. Our cats and dogs and other pets rely on us to protect them from things that might cause them harm. The best way to do that is to first become informed.

 

The most important thing to note right now is this message from the Centers for Disease Control: “At this time there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19.”

 

The dog infected with coronavirus did not get sick

 

There was some initial confusion about the dog who tested positive for COVID-19. Initially, it was believed that the virus was only on the surface of the dog because the dog had been in close contact with a human infected with COVID-19.[1] But after tests that involved sampling the dog’s oral and nasal cavities, it was determined that the dog was “weak positive,” even though the pet was “not showing any clinical signs of the disease.”[2]

 

In other words, this dog may have had the virus’ genetic material in its body, but it was not sick. This particular animal has been quarantined and will be tested again before it will be released.

 

Can our dogs and cats transmit coronavirus to us humans? Can we infect our pets?

 

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) agreed that it was likely that a human transmitted the virus to the dog. Should we be worried about our cats and dogs getting sick? Should we be worried about our pets transmitting the virus to us?

 

doctor and face maskLet’s review what experts know so far: According to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), “There is no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection for COVID-19 or that they can become sick.”[3]

 

In other words, based on what we know today, your pets cannot get you sick, nor are they able to become sick from this coronavirus.

 

It is important to understand that even though this one was dog was infected, it does not mean the dog was infectious. To say it another way: the dog had viral material it its body, but that does not mean it was able to pass it on to another living thing.

 

What we don’t know about pets and coronavirus

 

dog at vetWe know that coronaviruses in general can survive on objects and surfaces. We can assume that if the virus can live for a certain amount of time on a doorknob, that it can also remain viable on your pet’s fur. What we don’t yet know is just how long this virus can survive outside of a body.

 

What you can do to keep you and your pets safe

 

soapAlthough there is no evidence that our pets can spread COVID-19, this virus could be present on the surface of the animal, especially if the pet has been in an area with a large quantity of the virus.

 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after playing with your animal.[4]
  • Avoid kissing your pet. 

If you become sick with COVID-19:

  • Limit contact with your pets until more information is known about the virus.
  • Have other household members take over the care of your pet while you are sick.
  • Avoid kissing, snuggling, and being licked by your pet, and sharing food.[5]

 

The AFCD does advise that if a person becomes infected with coronavirus that his or her pets should also be quarantined.

 

A short history of pets and coronaviruses

 

Dogs and cats do get coronaviruses, but they are not the same ones we are worried about with this outbreak. The kinds of coronaviruses that dogs and cats can get generally don’t cause respiratory symptoms the way COVID-19 does in humans. Feline Coronavirus (FCoV), for example, is a very common viral infection in cats.[6] Cats who get this disease generally don’t have symptoms, except mild diarrhea.

 

The SARS Outbreak of 2003

SARS Warning SignDo you remember the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003? SARS is also a type of coronavirus, but with a much higher death rate than COVID-19. Like today, people at the time were very concerned about whether animals could contract the disease and pass it on to others of their kind. An experiment[7] published in Nature showed that cats and ferrets could contract SARS and transmit it to other cats and ferrets. Anecdotally, it appeared that animals could contract SARS from people. In an apartment complex in Hong Kong where hundreds of residents had become infected with SARS, many of their house cats were also found to be infected. The researchers at the time declined to comment on whether cats could pass the virus on to humans.
 
During the SARS outbreak, there were reports that cats were being taken from their owners in Beijing and killed, based on fears about contagious cats. In Hong Kong some people abandoned their pets altogether.

 

Why pets are extra important during stressful times

 

The panic in Beijing and Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS outbreak was not only cruel and unnecessary, it was also counter-productive.

 

Although any pet lover will extol the benefits of having a dog or cat or other animal in your life, the Anxiety and Depression Association has a name for it: the pet effect.

 

girl hugging a rabbit“Pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation…A 2016 study explored the role of pets in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem and found that pets provide a sense of security and routine that provided emotional and social support.”[8]

 

Human-animal interaction is shown to cause positive physiological changes, including an increase in oxytocin levels in the brain. Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.”[9]

 

So in trying times, it’s good to continue to strengthen that bond between you and your pet. But I probably didn’t have to tell you that, did I?

 

 

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] https://vetmed.illinois.edu/pet_column/coronavirus-pets/

[2] https://www.ktvu.com/news/coronavirus-and-pets-your-cat-or-dog-probably-cant-get-covid-19-who-says 

[3] https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/02/asia/pets-coronavirus-spread-intl-hnk/index.html

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

[5] ibid

[6] https://www.vet.cornell.edu/animal-health-diagnostic-center/veterinary-support/disease-information/feline-coronavirus

[7] http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2003/10/cats-and-ferrets-can-carry-sars-virus

[8] [1] https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/02/asia/pets-coronavirus-spread-intl-hnk/index.html

[9] https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html

 

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