Information about the novel coronavirus (the virus that causes COVID-19) is constantly evolving. We will refresh our novel coronavirus content periodically based on newly published peer-reviewed findings to which we have access. For the most reliable and up-to-date information, please visit the CDC website or the WHO’s advice for the public.
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.
In February 2020, a dog in Hong Kong that was owned by a patient with COVID-19 tested 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).
In January of 2021, two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo contracted COVID as well. While their symptoms were mild, 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 (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” (CDC, 2020).
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 (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 (CDC, 2020). This includes avoiding crowded dog parks and keeping cats indoors.
- 2019-nCoV Frequently Asked Questions and Answers. (2020, March 1). Retrieved March 2, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html
- 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
- 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/
- 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
- If You Have Animals. (2020, April 13). Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html
- 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
- 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/