Here are the answers to all the questions pet owners are asking about Covid-19

Concerns have been raised about pets contracting the new coronavirus after two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium tested positive for Covid-19.

However, veterinary experts and molecular virologists are keen to stress there is very little risk to domestic animals from coronavirus and the risk of transfer from humans to animals and vice versa is extremely low.

Dogs can contract certain types of coronaviruses, such as the canine respiratory coronavirus, but this specific novel coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it’s known, is not considered to be a significant threat to pets.

In this Q&A, we answer some of the many questions pet owners are asking about Covid-19.

Can my pet contract Covid-19?

While there have been two instances of dogs testing positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong and one instance of a cat testing positive in Belgium, to date, there is still very little evidence to show that pets can either catch the disease or spread the virus between themselves or to humans.

As a precaution, owners who have tested positive for Covid-19 are advised to avoid close contact with their pet and to wash their hands thoroughly before and after contact with their belongings.

Surely if one dog can become infected, my pets could?

The first dog in Hong Kong tested ‘weak positive’ for Covid-19. Tests revealed that samples from the dog’s nose and mouth showed low-level signs of the virus. Initially, this was thought to be due to environmental contamination, similar to it being on someone’s sleeve after they’ve sneezed into it. But it’s now believed the dog was suffering from a “low-level infection”. Blood samples from the dog later, however, came back negative and there remains no evidence that pets play a role in the spread of this human disease.

In the second case, a German Shepherd tested positive after her owner was confirmed with Covid-19. The dog had been taken into quarantine along with a mixed breed dog from the same household who had not tested positive. None of the dogs involved showed any signs of the illness and the Hong Kong authorities were quick to emphasise that there remains no evidence that dogs can be a source of Covid-19 for humans or that the virus can cause disease in dogs.

In the case of the cat in Belgium, both the owner, who had recently returned from Italy, and the cat tested positive for Covid-19. The cat started to show symptoms one week after the owner’s return. These included vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing and superficial breathing. The virus was later found in the cat’s faeces and sick. The cat began to recover nine days after first showing clinical signs.

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Have any other pets been tested for Covid-19?

One of the world’s leading veterinary diagnostics firms tested thousands of dogs and cats for the new coronavirus, and not a single case came back positive. This backs up the theory that pets cannot catch or spread Covid-19. The company has confirmed it now has the capability to test pets for the virus en-masse if it ever becomes necessary.

Didn’t Covid-19 start in animals?

While the SARS coronavirus was associated with civet cats and the MERS coronavirus was transmitted by dromedary camels, possible animal sources of Covid-19 have not yet been confirmed. Further investigations into this theory are ongoing.

Image of a vet nurse with a coronavirus test tube for article on coronavirus in dogs
Currently, there is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals can be infected with this new coronavirus

What should I do if my pet is sick or injured?

Pets should not suffer needlessly regardless of whether you have Covid-19 or not. Please follow the usual process of calling your vet for advice in all circumstances. If it’s during the day, phone your local vet. If it’s in the evening or at the weekend, you should call your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic.

If you’re not suffering symptoms of Covid-19, and you have been advised to bring your pet into our clinic or hospital, you should ideally come alone. This will help minimise the number of people in in the waiting room.

If you do need someone to accompany you, perhaps for emotional support, to help you lift your pet, or to help you make decisions about care and finances, you should, where possible, ask a member of your household. They may wish to stay in the car when they’re not needed.

If you are displaying symptoms of Covid-19, follow the guidance below but do not take your pet to the clinic unless the vet instructs you to do so.

I’ve been diagnosed with Covid-19 or advised to self-isolate, how should I protect my pets?

If you can, ask another member of your household to care for your pets while you are sick. If this isn’t possible, you should restrict contact, just like you would around other people. This includes avoiding petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.

Although there is very little evidence that pets can become sick or play a role in the spread of this disease, it’s always best practice to maintain good hygiene.

Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after you prepare your pet’s food or interact with them and, if you are ill, wear a facemask. You should always cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or the inside of your elbow and avoid touching your face wherever possible.

What if I have suspected Covid-19 and my pet needs veterinary treatment?

If it’s non-urgent, you should wait at least 14 days before you schedule an appointment with your vet. If it’s an emergency and you are sick with Covid-19, please seek advice from your vet on how to best ensure your pet can be appropriately treated while minimising the risks of transmitting the virus to other people.

What if my pet is sick or injured and I'm in the high-risk group for Covid-19?

Try to arrange someone not at high risk of infection (elderly, pregnant woman, pre-existing health conditions) to bring your pet to the clinic. If this is not possible, please stay informed about your local Covid-19 situation and take as much preventative action as you can. This includes washing your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water, especially after touching surfaces, people and pets, avoiding close contact (approximately six feet) with people for a prolonged period of time, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and covering your coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin.

What if someone accompanying me to the vet is in the high-risk group for Covid-19?

Anyone travelling with you who is at high risk of infection may wish to remain in the car for the time it takes for the consultation and treatment.

Can my pet transmit Covid-19 to my family or me?

Covid-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. There is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus. However, it is sensible to use good hygiene precautions when in contact with animals at any time. This includes washing your hands thoroughly before and after touching them. Kissing pets or allowing them to lick your face is not recommended in any circumstances.

Special care should be taken to maintain good hygiene procedures in children and others who are less capable of self-directed hygiene, particularly those with pre-existing health issues or immune compromise.

Image of the new coronavirus for Vets Now article on coronavirus and pets
Coronaviruses are a family of ribonucleic acid viruses. Covid-19 refers to the disease caused by this new strain of coronavirus.

Can I catch Covid-19 from my pet's fur?

There is very little evidence to say that our pets can get ill from Covid-19 and no evidence that shows we can catch it from them. The fact their hair is porous and fibrous means it’s also highly unlikely we could contract it by petting them in the way we might from touching contaminated surfaces. One of the dogs who tested positive in Hong Kong did, however, have low-level signs of the virus on their nose and mouth, so you should always wash your hands thoroughly before and after interacting with your pets. You should also ensure your pet avoids unnecessary contact with other people.

What can I do to prepare for potentially catching Covid-19?

Try to find another person in your household who is willing and able to care for your pet in your home should you contract Covid-19. It’s also worth having an emergency plan in place and emergency supplies prepared, with at least two weeks’ worth of pet food and any medications you might need, just in case you have to go into quarantine or self-isolation.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a family of ribonucleic acid viruses. The virus particle looks like a crown, which is where the name corona comes from. Coronavirus infections are common in humans and animals. While some strains are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted between animals and humans, many are not. Covid-19 refers to the disease caused by this new strain of coronavirus.

Can’t I vaccinate my pet against coronavirus?

There is a vaccine that’s used to protect puppies from canine coronavirus, but this doesn’t provide any protection against other strains of coronavirus such as canine respiratory coronavirus or Covid-19. There is currently no vaccine available for Covid-19 for humans either. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and information will be updated as it becomes available.

How should I pay for veterinary treatment?

All payments should be made by card rather than cash. Anyone handling cash should wash their hands immediately afterwards before touching anything else.

Can I still shake hands with my vet or vet nurse?

No, we have asked our staff not to shake hands to minimise unnecessary contact.

Some useful resources:

World Health Organisation

Feline and Canine Coronaviruses: Common Genetic and Pathobiological Features

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The New Coronavirus and Companion Animals – Advice for WSAVA Members