The news and social media are filled with updates surrounding the new novel coronavirus that began its spread late last year, also known as COVID-19. One of the biggest points of concern for families with pets stems from the knowledge that the virus strain was likely transmitted from animals in a livestock market in China. Since it’s believed that people caught COVID-19 from animals to begin with, it’s natural to wonder whether or not other animals like our family pets can transmit it, as well.
As of right now, there is no definitive answer to this question, but experts say that it is unlikely. Here’s what you should know to keep your family—including your furry friends—safe.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the newest strain of a type of virus called a coronavirus. The family of coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory illness, and multiple strains have affected countries around the globe in the past. This new form, formerly referred to as the 2019 novel coronavirus, had not been seen in humans prior to its first identification in December 2019.
In humans, COVID-19 has the potential to cause a range of symptoms, from a dry cough, sneezing and runny nose to a fever, pneumonia and even death. So far, experts believe that older adults and people with preexisting health conditions like kidney disease, diabetes and cancer are at a higher risk for severe illness.
The disease is largely spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout many countries. The illness has an estimated incubation period of 2 to 14 days, during which anyone who has had contact with an infected person is urged to stay home until they know they will not develop symptoms.
But what about our pets?
COVID-19 and pets
The original cases of COVID-19 were discovered in China on December 31, 2019. It is believed that this particular strain of the coronavirus was transmitted from animals in livestock markets in the area, but no one animal source has been confirmed yet. This means that the disease is zoonotic—that it has the capability to be transmitted between animals and humans.
This knowledge has led many owners of dogs and cats to worry about the possibility of catching the disease from their pets or of spreading the virus to their furry friends.
In early March 2020, a dog in Hong Kong tested a “weak positive” for COVID-19. The animal was not showing any signs of disease, but experts believe this case suggests human-to-animal transmission of the virus.
However, in light of this discovery, the World Health Organization (WHO) says there is no evidence that pets will become sick or infectious from COVID-19. Being infected with the virus does not necessarily mean the pet will display symptoms of illness or that they will be capable of spreading the disease to humans.
“This dog has remained healthy, but we do not know if the virus can’t cause disease in dogs or if this dog was simply resistant. People can be infected without getting sick, so that could be true of dogs as well. We just don’t know. The dog remains quarantined at the Hong Kong Port of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, with a plan to keep it there until it tests negative,” says Dr. Janice Huntingford, Pet Wellbeing’s Staff Veterinarian.
Cats and dogs are commonly infected with coronaviruses. In fact, feline coronavirus can mutate and cause a dangerous disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). However, COVID-19 is not the same strain. Dogs and cats were found to contract previous forms of coronaviruses that affected humans, including SARS, but they did not cause illness in pets, nor were they spread from pet to human. Experts believe COVID-19 may perform similarly.
“According to Health Canada, our Canadian pets do not pose any threats to us. There is no evidence to suggest that any animal native to Canada (wild, livestock or pets) harbours the virus that causes COVID-19,” says Dr. Jan. “Therefore, animals in Canada do not pose a risk of infecting people with this virus. However, until we know more about this virus, if you, the pet owner, should contract COVID-19, treat your pet as you would other people to prevent infection.”
Experts urge pet owners to be safe and minimize the risk of virus transmission by not kissing their pets and washing their hands after feeding or contact. The pets of infected individuals should also be quarantined during their owner’s quarantine, as well. This is largely a precautionary measure, so researchers can learn as much as possible about the spread of the virus in its early stages.
Experts also say that face masks for pets are unnecessary and are likely distressing for them. Only human individuals who are currently infected or people who are caring for an infected person should wear masks to prevent the spread.
Be cautious and don’t panic!
Overall, organizations like WHO report that there is no need to panic or take any measures that could compromise your pet’s welfare. To date, the spread of COVID-19 has been a result of human to human transmission.
Based on the information available through WHO and other international organizations, your pets are not at risk of succumbing to COVID-19, nor are they likely to spread the disease to you.
However, be mindful that COVID-19 is one of many potential zoonotic illnesses pets can catch and/or spread. Therefore, it’s advisable to maintain proper hygiene when interacting with your pet. Wash your hands thoroughly after interacting with animals or their feces and don’t share food or kiss your pets—especially if you are sick.