Can my pet get COVID-19?

Answer From William F. Marshall, III M.D.

While coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) mostly spreads from person to person, it can also spread from people to animals.

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses. Some cause cold-like illnesses in people, and others cause illness in animals, such as bats. In addition, some coronaviruses infect only animals. While the specific source of origin isn't known, the virus that causes COVID-19 is believed to have started in an animal, spread to humans and then spread between people.

Coronavirus in dogs and cats

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few pets — including cats and dogs — also have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. This happened mostly after the animals were in close contact with people infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Based on the limited available information, the risk of animals spreading the COVID-19 virus to people is considered low. Animals don't appear to play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. There is no evidence that viruses can spread to people or other animals from a pet's skin, fur or hair.

However, keep in mind that young children, people with weakened immune systems, and people age 65 and older are more likely to get sick from some other germs that animals can carry.

To protect your pet from COVID-19, don't let your dog or cat interact with people or animals outside your household. For example:

  • Avoid dog parks or public places where many people and dogs gather.
  • When walking your dog, make sure your dog wears a leash and keep your dog at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people and animals.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible.

If you become sick with COVID-19 and have a pet:

  • Isolate yourself from everyone else, including your pet. If possible, have another person in your household care for your pet.
  • Avoid petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding with your pet.
  • If you care for your pet or are around animals while you're sick, wear a cloth face covering. Wash your hands before and after handling animals and their food, waste and supplies. Also, make sure you clean up after your pet.

If you have COVID-19 and your pet becomes sick, don't take your pet to the veterinarian yourself. Instead, contact the veterinarian. He or she might offer advice through a virtual visit or make another plan for treating your pet. Testing is only recommended for pets that have symptoms and have been exposed to a person with COVID-19.

If your pet tests positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, follow the same precautions you would if a family member became infected. Aim to isolate your pet in a separate room away from the rest of your family and have your pet stay at home. Wear gloves when you interact with your pet or its food, dishes, waste or bedding. Wash your hands after touching any of your pet's items. Don't put a face covering on your pet and don't wipe your pet with disinfectants, which can be harmful. If your pet develops new symptoms or seems to be getting worse, call the veterinarian.

If your pet becomes ill, there's reason to be hopeful. Of the small number of dogs and cats confirmed to have the virus that causes COVID-19, some didn't show any signs of illness. The pets that did become ill only experienced mild symptoms and could be cared for at home. None of them died.

If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health and how it can be affected by COVID-19, contact your veterinarian.

With

William F. Marshall, III M.D.

May 15, 2020 See more Expert Answers