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Last updated July 3, 2020. 3 minute read

Can pets get the novel coronavirus? Can they infect me?

As the current pandemic unfolds, many people are now wondering: Can animals get infected with SARS-CoV-2? Are our pets at risk of getting sick, and can they spread the virus to us? Here’s what you need to know about companion animals and the novel coronavirus.

Linnea Zielinski Written by Linnea Zielinski
Reviewed by Dr. Tzvi Doron, DO

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease that began spreading in 2019. It is caused by the virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is a member of the coronavirus family. Some of the viruses in this family can jump from animals to people, as occurred with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). SARS-CoV-2 is the newest coronavirus to make this jump.

The process of a virus jumping from animals to humans is called zoonosis. “Reverse zoonosis” is the opposite: when a virus jumps from a human to an animal. Although we understand this process far less than the animal-to-human model, a 2014 review of studies found examples of it. Humans have passed methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), influenza A, and Ascaris lumbricoides (roundworm) to animals (Messenger, 2014).

As the current pandemic unfolds, many people are now wondering: Can animals get infected with SARS-CoV-2? Are our pets at risk of getting sick, and can they spread the virus to us? Here’s what you need to know about companion animals and the novel coronavirus.

Can pets get COVID-19?

We used to think the answer to this question was “no.” However, our understanding of the situation has changed.

In February 2020, a dog in Hong Kong that was owned by a patient with COVID-19 tested a “weak positive” for the virus. However, the territory’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement that it may have been due to “environmental contamination.” As of February 28, 2020, the dog had not shown any symptoms of the virus (Detection, 2020).

On April 5, 2020, it was reported that a tiger at the Bronx Zoo was sick with COVID-19. The tiger was tested after showing respiratory symptoms, but it is unknown how the tiger became infected in the first place. Since then, several other animals at the zoo have shown symptoms and have also tested positive for the virus (Daly, 2020).

On April 22, 2020, it was reported that two domestic cats in New York tested positive for the virus after developing respiratory symptoms. The cats were from separate areas of New York. One of the cats belonged to a person with COVID-19. Another cat in the same household did not show any symptoms (Azad, 2020).

There is also evidence that other animals are susceptible to infection, such as ferrets and dogs (Questions, 2020). And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states it “is aware of a small number of pets, including cats and dogs, reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19” (If, 2020).

Studies are currently underway to better understand how infection with SARS-CoV-2 affects animals. If you think your pet has become ill, call your vet before taking them into the veterinary office or clinic so they can tell you the best way to proceed.

Can my pet infect me with the novel coronavirus?

There is currently no evidence that pets play a role in spreading SARS-CoV-2 to humans. Because of this, experts stress “there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare” (Questions, 2020).

That being said, there are some precautions to take that may be helpful. The CDC suggests, in general, that you wash your hands after touching animals because they can spread other illnesses to humans. If you are sick with COVID-19, the CDC suggests you separate yourself from pets and let someone else care for them while you’re sick (2019-nCoV Frequently Asked Questions and Answers, 2020). Additionally, it is recommended that you do not let pets interact with other humans or animals outside the home (If, 2020). This includes avoiding crowded dog parks and keeping cats indoors.