There is a lot of anxiety about Coronavirus Disease 2019, aka COVID-19. For pet owners, that anxiety has undoubtedly extended to the safety of their companion animals.
Can pets get sick from coronavirus?
Though more information and research is still necessary about how COVID-19 is transmitted, health officials are currently saying this is unlikely.
“There is no reason at this time to think that any animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Anxieties surrounding the new virus, called SARS-CoV-2, and its impact on pets heightened after Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that a pet dog whose owner had the disease had “weak positive” results for the virus. The dog wasn’t showing any symptoms.
According to an FAQ updated by the American Veterinary Medical Association on March 16, 2020, the AFCD first collected samples from the 17-year-old Pomeranian on Feb. 26 and detected low levels of SARS-CoV-2 in samples from its nasal and oral cavities on Feb. 27. Testing was repeated on Feb. 28, March 2 and March 5 with continued “weak positive” results.
“Weak positive,” the AVMA states in the FAQ, suggests there is a small quantity of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the tested samples. But it doesn’t distinguish whether the samples contain intact viruses (which are infectious) or only RNA fragments. To better understand the meaning behind the weak positive, additional testing was being conducted.
LiveScience reported on March 18 that the dog died on March 16 after it tested negative for the virus and was released from quarantine. PetfoodIndustry.com reported on March 19 that a second pet dog whose owner was diagnosed with COVID-19, also in Hong Kong, tested positive for the virus. The dog, a 2-year-old German shepherd, is also showing no symptoms. But another dog from the same home tested negative. Both dogs were quarantined.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) issued a press release to reassure pet owners about the news. According to the group, the 17-year-old Pomeranian did have unrelated health problems and is believed to have passed away from old age.
“While there is still much we don’t know about COVID-19, we do know that the Pomeranian dog did not die from the virus, and the second dog is also showing no signs, either of the disease or of being able to transmit it to other pets or people. The current evidence still strongly indicates that COVID-19 cannot be contracted from pets,” WSAVA President Dr. Shane Ryan says in the statement. “We remain very concerned at reports of many animals being abandoned, killed or taken to shelters because their owners fear that they might carry the virus when this is not supported by evidence. In addition to the suffering this causes to the animals concerned, their owners will also cease to benefit from all the positive aspects of owning a pet, which are even more important as so many of us are now having to limit contact with other people.”
Veterinary diagnostics company IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. announced in a news release on March 13 that the company has seen no positive test results of SARS-CoV-2 in pets to date. The company evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens during validation of a new veterinary test system for the COVID-19 virus.
“Considering this information in total, infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people,” according to the AVMA.
The AVMA and other experts do recommend washing your hands before and after interacting with animals.
Veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds, of Hemopet veterinary center in Garden Grove, advises pet owners to try and stay calm.
“Coronaviruses are commonly found in the canine bowel and are not related to the COVID-19 respiratory virus now affecting people worldwide,” she says. “Please follow common principles of hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly in warm or cool soapy water for at least 20 seconds and dry them.”
She also has some suggestions for keeping pets active while staying home more.
“Engage them in playtime indoors or [in the] backyard, perhaps with television turned on to a pet or doggie/cat cartoon show,” she says.
— Jessica Peralta