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Last updated September 10, 2021. 4 minute read

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

As coronavirus affects every aspect of our daily lives, you may be 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 Tzvi Doron, DO

Since COVID-19 first appeared and upended our lives, a lot has changed. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease that began spreading in 2019. It is caused by the virus known as 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).

So what does it take for a virus to spread from animals to humans or vice versa? 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.

Two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong that were owned by people with COVID-19 tested positive for the virus. However, the dogs did not show any symptoms of the virus. Two cats in the United States also tested positive for the virus. Research showed that the cats were able to infect other cats despite not being symptomatic. There was no evidence that the dogs could transmit the infection to people (Sit, 2020; Mallapaty, 2020; Azad, 2020).

In 2020, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19 after showing respiratory symptoms. 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).

In 2021, two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo tested positive for COVID-19 after having mild respiratory symptoms. Zookeepers were surprised as staff that work with wildlife at the zoo take precautions to avoid exposing the animals to the virus (NPR, 2021).

There is also evidence that other animals are susceptible to infection, such as ferrets and hamsters (Muñoz-Fontela, 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” (CDC, 2021a).

Studies are currently underway to better understand how infection with SARS-CoV-2 affects animals. There is currently no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from a pet’s fur. Do not attempt to wash your pets with disinfectants, hand sanitizer, or hydrogen peroxide. If you think your pet is sick, 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 (CDC, 2021b). Do not put masks on pets, as they can be injured. Don’t let pets interact with unvaccinated humans outside the home (CDC, 2021c). This includes avoiding crowded dog parks and keeping cats indoors.

References

  1. Azad, A. (2020, April 22). Two cats in New York confirmed to have coronavirus, making them the first pets in the US known to be infected. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/22/health/cats-new-york-coronavirus-trnd/index.html

    Center for Disease Control (CDC). If You Have Animals. (2021a, August 5). Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html

    Center for Disease Control (CDC).COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions and Answers. (2021b, September 8). Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

    Center for Disease Control (CDC). What You Should Know about COVID-19 and Pets. (2021c, June 29). September 9, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/covid-19/pets.html
  2. Daly, N. (2020, April 6). Tiger tests positive for coronavirus at Bronx Zoo, first known case in the world. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/04/tiger-coronavirus-covid19-positive-test-bronx-zoo/
  3. Detection of low level of COVID-19 virus in pet dog. (2020, February 28). Retrieved March 2, 2020, from https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202002/28/P2020022800013.htm
  4. Messenger, A. M., Barnes, A. N., & Gray, G. C. (2014). Reverse Zoonotic Disease Transmission (Zooanthroponosis): A Systematic Review of Seldom-Documented Human Biological Threats to Animals. PLoS ONE, 9(2). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089055, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089055

    Mallapaty S. (2020). Dogs caught coronavirus from their owners, genetic analysis suggests. Nature, 10.1038/d41586-020-01430-5. Advance online publication. doi:10.1038/d41586-020-01430-5. Retrieved September 9, 2021 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32409763/
  5. Muñoz-Fontela, C., Dowling, W. E., Funnell, S., Gsell, P. S., Riveros-Balta, A. X., Albrecht, R. A., et al. (2020). Animal models for COVID-19. Nature586(7830), 509–515. doi.:10.1038/s41586-020-2787-6. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32967005/

    NPR: Jones, D. (2021, Jan 11). 2 Gorillas in California Contract the Coronavirus. National Public Radio. Retrieved January 11, 2021 from https://www.npr.org/2021/01/11/955782284/two-gorillas-in-california-contract-the-coronavirus

    Questions and Answers on the COVID-19: OIE – World Organisation for Animal Health. (2020, April 21). Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.oie.int/en/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/

    Sit, T., Brackman, C. J., Ip, S. M., Tam, K., Law, P., To, E., et al. (2020). Infection of dogs with SARS-CoV-2. Nature586(7831), 776–778. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2334-5. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32408337/