Questions and Answers About Pets and the Coronavirus

Mud Bay’s On-Staff Vet Discusses What to Do About COVID-19

Healthy Dogs |  March 6, 2020

UPDATED: March 20, 2020

As a veterinarian, I’ve fielded many questions about the coronavirus and its impact on pets. While information is continuously changing, I want to let everyone know what we do know about how the coronavirus might affect you and your pet. Here are some questions I’ve answered so far:

Can my dog or cat catch the coronavirus?

While not everything about this virus is known, currently we don’t think that dogs or cats can catch the coronavirus. The World Health Organization clearly states, “There is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19.”

What about the dog in Hong Kong that I’ve heard was infected by the coronavirus?

A 17-year-old Pomeranian in Hong Kong had a weak positive test for coronavirus based on oral and nasal swabs, but rectal and fecal samples were negative. A few days later, only the oral swab was positive, and then all swabs were negative for the coronavirus. There were no symptoms of the coronavirus and no evidence that the coronavirus replicated and infected the dog. Without additional cases to study, scientists can’t definitively say exactly what occurred. However, many believe that the dog tested positive for the coronavirus just like a door handle that was exposed to COVID-19 would.

After the dog was taken home, he died several days later. The owner declined an autopsy, but no one believes the coronavirus caused this dog’s death. Unfortunately, this geriatric dog was likely stressed by living in quarantine and being handled by strangers. These stressors, when combined with the dog’s advanced age, are the most likely cause of his death. After this dog’s death, a second dog also tested positive for the coronavirus, but there have been no other reports of dogs testing weak positive for the coronavirus as of this time.

The dog in Hong Kong is a complex case, but one thing is clear: No one thinks that a dog can become infected with the coronavirus and pass that infection on to a human. While there’s been a lot written about this subject, I like this explanation from Dr. Shelley Rankin, who is a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine:

“The SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads from humans to humans. There is no research to support human to animal spread at this time. Samples from the Hong Kong dog had a small number of virus particles present. In an animal with no clinical signs of disease, it’s hard to say what this means. It was a single case, and we learned that we need to do a lot more research into the potential of the human SARS-CoV-19 virus to infect animals.

That said, cats and dogs are mammals too. They have many of the same types of receptors on their cells that we do. So the virus could theoretically attach to these receptors. But will it enter their cells and replicate? Probably not.”

I highly recommend the entire interview for people who are interested. In addition, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has monitored this case carefully and are telling veterinarians directly that there is no evidence of pet to human transmission of the coronavirus.

What can I do to protect my pets and myself from the coronavirus?

The CDC has plenty of tips for preventing the spread of coronavirus, and you can find them on their website. These tips include:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before eating, after using the bathroom, and after you blow your nose or cough. Washing your hands after handling pet food is also important.
  • Avoid touching your face whenever possible.
  • Disinfect commonly used surfaces with a disinfectant spray or wipes.
  • Stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with people who are ill.

As you can see, this advice works to stop the spread of many common illnesses and are good tips to follow year-round.

Is there anything I should do to prepare in case I get the coronavirus?

The CDC is currently recommending keeping a 14-day supply of food, medication, and supplies for you and your pet on hand. Fourteen days is the recommended quarantine period in case you needed to quarantine or self-quarantine due to illness.

There’s no need to hoard pet food or supplies—in fact, we have plans to keep Mud Bay stores in stock—but consider keeping a couple of weeks extra food on hand. Also, if your dog takes medication to regulate a health condition, you might want to talk to your vet about getting an extra few week’s supply.

Should I avoid contact with my dogs or cats if I get coronavirus?

Right now, the CDC is recommending that people minimize contact with their pets if they have the coronavirus. If someone in your household is not sick, ask them to care for the household’s pets. If you must take care of your dog or cat while sick, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask and washing your hands before and after touching your animal or his food, bowls or other items.

tabby cat gazing at panting black and white dog

Katy Patterson-Miller, DVM, CVFT is the Director of Dog and Cat Health and Nutrition for Mud Bay. Before joining Mud Bay in 2011 and focusing on small animal nutrition, Dr. Patterson-Miller enjoyed six years in emergency medicine and general practice. She is a graduate of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine with her clinical year spent at Louisiana State School of Veterinary Medicine.

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