In this time of uncertainty, there is reassuring news. According to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA), there is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19.
The CDC website states that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, of which some cause illness in people and some cause illness in animals. However, the coronaviruses that infect animals rarely infect people. While the first infection of COVID-19 (and its predecessor SARS) has been linked to a live animal market, CDC added that public health officials do not actually know the exact source of COVID-19. Moreover, the disease is now spreading only from person to person.
The AVMA website explains that transmission of COVID-19 seems to most often occur “when there is contact with an infected person’s bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze.” Transmission can also occur by touching a contaminated surface and then touching one’s face, but AVMA states that this appears to be a secondary route. AVMA notes that when transmission occurs this way, it’s most likely to be transmitted by smooth surfaces such as doorknobs rather than by porous materials such as pet fur.
The current position of both the CDC and the AVMA is that, unless a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, pet owners can continue to interact with their pet as they normally would. This includes feeding them, grooming them, taking them for walks, and enjoying their company.
Of course, as always, pet owners should continue to practice good hygiene. Everyone should wash their hands after handling pets, their food, their supplies, or their waste. In addition, everyone should regularly clean their pet’s dishes, bedding, and toys.
What if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19? The CDC advises pet owners facing that situation to restrict their contact with animals to minimize the possibility of their pet getting the virus “until more information is known about the virus.”
As of March 27, two dogs and one cat of owners with the disease have tested positive for COVID-19. According to the website for the College of Veterinarian Medicine at the University of Illinois, neither dog showed any symptoms. In addition, while it seems one of the dogs may have had a low-level infection, the college believes it could have died from comorbidities. The college website states that if COVID-19 was a factor in either case, it was likely due to the dogs being in close contact with infected people, which led to the virus being in the dogs’ noses. The College also emphasized that these were instances of human-to-animal transmission, and that there is still no evidence that pets can spread the disease.
According to website for the University of Guelph Centre for Public Health & Zoonoses, the cat did develop the classic symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties. Moreover, the virus was found in the cat’s feces. However, the case has again been ruled as a human to animal transmission, not the other way around.
In light of these cases, what pet owners diagnosed with COVID-19 do? Both the CDC and the AVMA recommend that owners minimize contact with their pet to avoid potential transmission. If there is a healthy member in the household, then this person should take over pet care. Pet owners should also contact their veterinarian, so that the clinic is prepared should the animal become sick. If social distancing isn’t possible, then CDC and AVMA recommend that owners wear a facemask and to wash their hands before and after any contact.
Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is grateful to everyone who has supported its pet food bank during this time of uncertainty. Mary Douglas, president of LAA, noted that LAA has seen a dramatic increase in requests for help. “Many people are losing jobs, hours at work, and businesses are struggling,” said Douglas. “Our supplies of dry dog and cat food are extremely low. Any help we can get from the community for pet food or for monetary donations to help purchase food would be so appreciated.”
Despite this, Douglas added, “Nebraskans historically are known to take care of each other. Already I’ve seen so many acts of assistance, it makes my heart swell. We will get through this together!”
Lincoln Animal Ambassadors addresses the root causes of animal homelessness in the Lancaster area by helping pets and their people through a voucher-based low cost spay/neuter program, an income-based pet food bank, and by sponsoring a low-cost vaccination clinic. LAA is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, all-volunteer organization funded entirely by donations and fundraisers.
All information provided about COVID-19 is based on the most current information at the time of this article being published. Information is regularly changing, and the public should check the aforementioned websites for updates.