What’s the risk of COVID-19 to your pet?

UCalgary infectious disease experts offer some answers

There’s lots of uncertainty and misinformation about people contracting and spreading COVID-19. That’s also true when it comes to the risk involved with our pets.

To help address these concerns, animal and human infectious disease experts at the University of Calgary struck a task force to review what is currently known – and not known – about the coronavirus and the risk of its transmission between people and their pets. The task force reviewed the limited research to date on COVID-19 and domestic animals, along with past and current research on other coronaviruses, and opinions from experts in the field of infectious diseases that spread between people and animals.

Dr. Rebecca Archer, a clinical instructor of small animal medicine with UCalgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, answers some common questions pet owners are asking right now.

The chances of that happening appear to be very low. To date, many pets have been tested but only two cats, two dogs, and one tiger – all with known exposure to people with COVID-19 – have proved to be positive. The cats and tiger exhibited mild symptoms, and the dogs didn’t show any signs of sickness.

Our current knowledge, based on research and case reports to date, indicates dogs aren’t easily infected, while cats, ferrets, and hamsters are more susceptible to the virus. But keep in mind, in these more susceptible species the infection is usually mild and the animals recover.

There is no evidence of cats, dogs, or other domestic animals infecting people. What we’ve learned is that although the virus likely originated in a wild animal host, the virus adapted to transmit easily from human-to-human. It’s important to understand that the spread of this pandemic is being driven by person-to-person contact. Although some domestic animal species may be able to contract the virus from people with COVID-19, at this time it is not common in domestic animal populations.

As far as pet-to-pet spread, there is little evidence at this time. However, in research settings, there were indications that ferrets, cats, and hamsters may be able to spread the virus to their own species.

Although transmission from people to pets seems relatively uncommon, if you’ve been confirmed with COVID-19 or have symptoms such as dry cough or fever, protect your pets the same way you would protect other people. Physically distance yourself from your pet while you are sick, and practice the precautions recommended for people, including frequent hand washing and coughing or sneezing into your arm. We also recommend washing your hands before and after handling their food, food bowls, and pet other supplies.

I want to emphasize that you DO NOT need to give your pet up for adoption if you have COVID-19.  Animals can be a great comfort during these stressful times and provide us with many health benefits. If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, make sure to contact your veterinarian.

If so, can it then spread to others?

Theoretically, there is a risk of transmitting the virus to another person through a pet’s contaminated hair. But it’s considered unlikely that a sufficient amount of the virus would remain on the animal’s coat long enough to spread the infection. The best advice is to wash your hands before and after petting an animal to reduce any potential risk.

Most veterinary clinics are open because veterinary medicine has been deemed an essential service. However, this means they are performing essential health services and they likely have reduced hours and staff. Because public health officials recommend physical distancing, please phone your clinic prior to going and they will instruct you on the best way for them to help you and your pet. Some veterinary clinics can also discuss your pet’s concerns with you through telemedicine.  Contact your local veterinarian for more information.

From the information our task force reviewed, there have been no reports of livestock or horses infected with COVID-19. There hasn’t yet been much testing though, so the susceptibility of various kinds of livestock is not really known. There is research being done in Canada and internationally to look at species susceptibility and transmission, so we could have a better understanding in the near future.

No, they are not the same virus. There are different coronaviruses that can affect only these species and can result in a variety of clinical illnesses. There are also many respiratory viruses and bacteria that are a common cause of coughing, sneezing, and fever in animals.  

As this pandemic is a fluid situation, we’re providing information based on what is known about COVID-19 and domestic animals at this point in time. Because misinformation may be circulated on social media, we recommend the following credible sources for updated information: