Pets in homes with owners with COVID-19

By April 8, 2020 May 20th, 2020 Blog, Family Pet Veterinary Blog

Pets in homes with owners with COVID-19 (information courtesy of the AVMA)

Updated May 18, 2020

PETS DO NOT APPEAR TO BE EASILY INFECTED WITH SARS-COV-2

During the first 4.5 months of the COVID-19 outbreak (January 1 through May 9, 2020), which includes the first eight weeks following the March 11 declaration by the WHO of a global pandemic, only five pets have tested positive, with confirmation, for SARS-CoV-2 globally. This despite the fact that as of May 9, the number of infected people exceeded 4 million globally and 1.3 million in the United States.

Although there have been a handful of reports from around the world of pets being infected with SARS-CoV-2, none of these reports suggest that pets are a source of infection for people. Evidence from the few domestic animals that have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 indicate these infections are a result of close contact with people with COVID-19. In laboratory studies of experimental infection with SARS-CoV-2, ferrets, Syrian hamsters, and cats—all animals that may be kept as pets—show potential for serving as animal models of human infection, but dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks do not. There is little to no evidence that domestic animals are easily infected with SARS-CoV-2 under natural conditions and no evidence to date that they transmit the virus to people. The primary mode of transmission of COVID-19 in humans is person-to-person spread.

Out of an abundance of caution and until more is known about this virus, if you are ill with COVID-19 you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. When possible, have another member of your household or business take care of feeding and otherwise caring for any animals, including pets. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, wear a cloth facemask; don’t pet, don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.

Additional guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 is available from the CDC. 

The five pets confirmed to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 between January 1-May 9, 2020 include two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong, and two cats in the United States (New York). There were also reports of a few additional pets in Europe or the United States with positive results on initial testing during this same time period, but confirmatory testing had not been completed.

The two positive cats in the United States were reported by the CDC and National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) on April 22 to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Both cats had signs of mild respiratory illness and are on the way to a full recovery. The owner of one of these cats was confirmed to have had COVID-19; a second cat living in this same household tested negative for the virus. The second positive cat was an indoor-outdoor cat whose owner had no symptoms of COVID-19 and was never tested. However, it lived in an area with a high number of human COVID-19 cases. It was presumed that that this cat was infected by either its owner, who was asymptomatically infected with SARS-CoV-2, or by another infected person in the neighborhood.

The two dogs and one cat in Hong Kong were tested while being cared for in quarantine, because since the onset of the outbreak there, government officials with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) recommended this protocol for pets from households with persons hospitalized because of COVID-19. As of April 15th, 30 dogs, 17 cats, and 2 hamsters had been held at the AFCD quarantine facility. However, only the 2 dogs and 1 cat mentioned above tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. None of the animals in quarantine, including the three positive pets, developed clinical signs of respiratory disease, and all positive animals were released from quarantine after at least a 14 day stay and negative test results on samples collected over at least two consecutive days. An in-depth summary of these and other reported cases of naturally occurring SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals is available for those who wish to learn more.

Keeping pets safe during the pandemic

For responsible pet owners, preparing in advance is key. Make sure you have an emergency kit prepared, with at least two weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and any needed medications. Usually we think about emergency kits like this in terms of what might be needed for an evacuation, but it’s also good to have one prepared in the case of quarantine or self-isolation when you cannot leave your home.

Other appropriate practices include not letting pets interact with people or other animals outside the household; keeping cats indoors, if possible, to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people; walking dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals; and avoiding dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

f you are ill with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed with a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would with other people; have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick; avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. Additional guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 is available from the CDC.

While we are recommending these as good practices, it is important to remember that there is no reason at this time to think that domestic animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. In this pandemic emergency, pets and people each need the support of the other and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.

Let’s remember:

Despite the number of global cases of COVID-19 surpassing the 4 million mark as of May 9, 2020, we are aware of only a handful of pets and captive or farmed wild animals that have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. In all cases, the source of the infection for these animals was presumed to be one or more persons with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. At this point in time, there is also no evidence that domestic animals, including pets and livestock, can spread COVID-19 to people.

Therefore, these recommendations, which are supported by guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), are that:

  • Animal owners without symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to practice good hygiene during interactions with animals. This includes washing hands before and after such interactions and when handling animal food, waste, or supplies.
  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors, when possible, to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals. Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
  • Until more is known about the virus, those ill with COVID-19 should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. Have another member of your household or business take care of feeding and otherwise caring for any animals, including pets.  If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, then wear a cloth face covering; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them, and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.
  • At this point in time, there is no evidence to suggest that domestic animals, including pets and livestock, that may be incidentally infected by humans play a role in the spread of COVID-19.
  • Routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is NOT recommended. 
  • Human outbreaks are driven by person-to-person transmission. Accordingly, we see no reason to remove pets from homes even if COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately.

Animals that are ill or injured should receive veterinary care. When COVID-19 symptoms are present in the household, the owner or animal caretaker should first consult with the veterinarian via TeleMedicine to determine whether an in-clinic examination is needed. Where appropriate, testing for infectious diseases that commonly cause companion animal illness should be conducted. It is important to remember that there is currently no evidence pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to peopleAccordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes even if COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. During this pandemic emergency, pets and people each need the support of the other and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.

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