Since our original blog post about COVID-19 and its effects on pets and people, a great deal more information, cases, and research have come to light—most importantly, an update concerning animal susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. Originally, SARS-CoV-2 was thought to infect only people, but that theory has been disproven, as cats, dogs, tigers, and lions have tested positive. Universities and laboratories are working diligently to unearth as much information as possible on this novel coronavirus, and we want to provide you with the most accurate, up-to-date research, to keep your family and your pets safe. Keep an eye out for potential future updates, but the following questions are answered with what we currently know about COVID-19.
Question: How many pets in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19?
Answer: While you’ve likely read the reports of two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium testing positive for COVID-19, the virus has now struck close to home, with a few cases in U.S. pets and zoo animals. In April, the CDC and USDA announced the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in U.S. pets, when two cats in separate New York households tested positive. Their situations differed, in that one cat lived with an infected person, while the other did not. Another cat from the household with the infected person did not test positive, nor did the cat display illness. Both cats who tested positive developed mild respiratory signs, and are expected to make a full recovery.
The first U.S. dog testing COVID-19 positive has also been reported in North Carolina, where a pug reportedly tested positive at Duke University, after several family members tested positive, although one member and another dog and cat did not. The pug became sick with mild respiratory signs of a dry cough and inappetence, but recovered in a few days. The CDC has not yet confirmed this case.
In addition to these pets, eight big cats in the Bronx Zoo have tested COVID-19 positive. The first tiger was tested after developing a dry cough and inappetence while under the care of a zookeeper who was subclinically shedding the virus, followed by four more tigers and three lions.
Q: What is the latest research on COVID-19 infections in animals?
A: A recent study by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences investigated the susceptibility of several domestic animal species to SARS-CoV-2 infection, as well as viral transmission between members of the same species. The study included ferrets, cats, dogs, ducks, chickens, and pigs. The study’s results led to the following conclusions:
- Ferrets and cats appear highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
- Cats can transmit the virus between each other through respiratory droplets.
- Dogs appear to have low susceptibility to the virus, and intraspecies transmission is not likely.
- Pigs, ducks, and chickens do not appear to be susceptible to the virus.
Q: Is my cat likely to get COVID-19 if I have it?
A: With more than a million confirmed COVID-19 human cases, but only a handful of animal cases, your cat is unlikely to become sick. However, if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, avoid snuggling, kissing, hugging, or feeding your pet, since transmission is possible. If your cat becomes ill with SARS-CoV-2, respiratory signs will most likely be mild, as humans are the virus’ preferred host. At this point, no cases of animal-to-human transmission are known, but if your pet tests positive for COVID-19, take the same safety precautions you would around an infected person.
Q: Does my pet need to be tested for COVID-19?
A: A leading veterinary diagnostic laboratory tested thousands of canine and feline samples for SARS-CoV-2 while formulating a test widely available to veterinarians. If your pet develops any respiratory illness signs potentially related to COVID-19, call your family veterinarian, and they can determine the most appropriate course of action. Otherwise, the CDC has declared there is no reason to test healthy pets at this time.
Q: How can I keep my pet safe from COVID-19?
A: Since new COVID-19 cases are still being diagnosed every day, continue to follow social distancing rules and good hygiene practices for you and your pet. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your pet or their food and water, avoid crowded places, and limit interaction if you are ill. Although wearing a facemask in public is recommended for people, masks are not necessary for your pet. Not only is your pet unlikely to tolerate a face covering, but their breathing may also be restricted. Instead, keep a safe distance from other people and pets.
As always, the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center is here to care for your beloved companion, including during a pandemic. If your pet finds trouble while the family is quarantined, call us for emergency care.