The current outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is ever changing. As we continue to learn about this disease, which primarily affects humans, we’ve been keeping a close eye on how our pets and wildlife fit into the picture. While we still have much to learn, animals continue to play a seemingly negligible role in the novel coronavirus transmission. 

Question: I’ve read about various animals testing positive for COVID-19. Can you tell me more?

Answer: Over the past several weeks, a variety of animals have reportedly contracted SARS-CoV-2. Since March 2020, a handful of domestic dogs and cats have tested positive for the virus in China, Belgium, and the United States. So far, all positive cases involving domestic pets appear to have been associated with owners who also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, indicating that human-to-animal transmission was likely. In addition, a variety of Bronx Zoo tigers and lions tested positive for the novel virus after showing respiratory signs. As with the pet dogs and cats, these big cats likely contracted the virus from an infected caretaker. Fortunately, all reported pets and zoo animals showed either mild or no disease signs, and are expected to make full recoveries. At this time, felines appear to be more susceptible to contracting SARS-CoV-2, but the risk is still extremely low. While the virus causing COVID-19 can seemingly be transmitted from humans to animals, no evidence has been found that the reverse is true. 

Q: Why are some pets affected by COVID-19, and others aren’t?

A: We simply don’t have a concrete answer yet. Earlier studies regarding SARS-CoV, the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), suggest that cats and ferrets may play an intermediary role in disease transmission, but this has not been proven in the case of COVID-19. Any number of factors may contribute to the varied results seen in animals, such as genetics, immunity, viral mutation, or the viral load of the infected owner or zookeeper caring for the animal. 

Q: Does my pet need to be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19?

A: Most pets do not need to be tested for SARS-CoV-2; however, if your pet is showing respiratory signs, such as coughing, nasal discharge, gagging, or difficulty breathing, call University Veterinary Hospital right away, or take them to your nearest veterinary emergency hospital, if we are not open. Our veterinary team will work up your pet for common causes of these symptoms, and discuss an appropriate plan. If you are showing signs of COVID-19, do not come directly to our hospital, but call first for guidance. In the rare occurrence that you and your pet are both showing COVID-19 respiratory signs, we may discuss testing your pet for SARS-CoV-2, but routine testing in pets is not recommended at this time. 

Q: Does my pet need to practice social distancing?

A: Until the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) instructs otherwise, we advise that you and your pets maintain a six-foot distance from any person or pet who does not live in your household. Refrain from going out into public with your pet and, if you are sick, ensure that a healthy household member takes care of your pet. 

Q: Should my pet wear a face mask in public, too?

A: Despite recommendations that people wear protective face coverings in public, they are not recommended for pets, for these reasons: 

  • Nothing indicates yet that pets play a significant role in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, rendering masks unnecessary.
  • Since pets have minimal sweat glands, much of their heat dissipation is through panting. Placing a mask over your pet could result in overheating or suffocationnot to mention that your pet likely won’t tolerate wearing one. 

Q: Where can I go to obtain reliable, updated information regarding COVID-19 and pets?

Our recent post includes a summary of updated information regarding COVID-19 and animals from the CDC, as of April 30, 2020. For the most current information, we recommend the following reputable websites:

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, contact us. We look forward to continuing to care for your pets during this unprecedented time.