Can Pets Get COVID-19?
If you watch the headlines, you are familiar with the growing concerns about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Health experts, including the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), work to control and prevent the spread of corona infections (also known as CoV) as well as to provide a wealth of recommendations to help you stay informed. But what happens if Fido and other pets develop COVID-19 or its symptoms? Until more is clear, let’s recap what we know about this situation as communities work to contain and control disease.
What Is COVID-19 and How Does It Spread?
COVID-19 is a virus, not a bacteria. Viruses require a host (your body and cells) to successfully survive. Unfortunately, while they are living in the host’s body, they can cause illness. While antibiotics help treat illnesses caused by bacteria, they are not effective against viruses.
We commonly encounter viruses such as the common cold and influenza. A coronavirus, like many other viruses, spreads from human to human primarily via respiratory secretions like coughing and sneezing. More still needs to be understood to ensure there is no other mode of transmission.
CoV varieties already exist in veterinary medicine, though these are “cousin” strains that do not impact humans. Cats diagnosed with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) are infected with a coronavirus; similarly, there is a strain of coronavirus that has historically been included in your puppy’s vaccinations (canine coronavirus).
Risks of COVID-19
Currently, the primary health concern regarding COVID-19 is for humans rather than animals. Until more studies and research are complete, including infected case evaluations, we know only a limited amount of information about COVID-19. Hygiene and avoiding exposure in public spaces are the key preventative measures and should be normal habits regarding responsible pet husbandry at the current moment as well. We can develop other infections and even parasites from our precious pet companions, so remember what mom taught you: “WASH YOUR HANDS!” Do this before and after handling any animal.
In February, a dog in Hong Kong tested light-positive for COVID-19. However, at this time, the CDC states that “no animals in the United States have been identified with the virus.” It is considered possible that a pet could harbor contamination from environmental exposure, which is not synonymous with being “infected.” In regards to risk potentials, it may make sense that an animal could facilitate the spread if the dog in Hong Kong was harboring from the infected home environment; the facts surrounding this are not well understood at this time. Rather than stress, just continue to reduce public travels with your companion and, of course, continue to keep up with their routine veterinary care.
While there is not an abundance of information about risks and the security of community members, according to the WHO, “Most people who become infected from [COVID-19] recover,” but there can be individuals more severely affected.
Protect and Prepare
Hygiene habits are a must! Limit contact, such as hand-shaking and hugging. Recently, the Harris County Public Health Department recommended “people at higher risk stay home and away from large groups.”
The veterinary community urges pet owners to continue to follow proper hygiene, medical advice and veterinary recommendations. For more information regarding COVID-19, please visit CDC.gov or WHO.int.
Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Cypress, Texas. Dr. Hennessey practices at Animal ER of Northwest Houston, where she is the practice owner.