October 9, 2020 – New evidence (as of October 2020) from an as yet unpublished study conducted from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College suggests that more pets than previously thought actually are mounting an immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This means that household pets are being infected from COVID-19 infected humans that share living space. These pets were exposed to and created antibodies against SARS-CoV2, but it does not necessarily mean all became sick from the disease.
Many cats in the study that were antibody-positive were in fact reported to have shown mild respiratory disease around the same time as their owner’s COVID-19 infection, but only a very low percentage of antibody-positive dogs displayed mild respiratory disease. It is important to note that this was a very small study, so it is unknown truly how common human to pet transmission is, and what proportion of those pets actually show COVID-19 related illness. All antibody-positive pets in the study that showed clinical symptoms had only mild disease, and all recovered.
It is important to note that cats and dogs do have their own natural species-specific types of coronaviruses, and that the study was looking specifically for the SARS-CoV-2 antibodies which is the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease in people.
Currently we have no information that suggests that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people. Routine testing of pets for COVID-19 is not recommended at this time.
Good general advice is if you are sick, use extra precautions when caring for your pet such as wearing a face mask, limiting close contact, and washing your hands before and after touching or feeding them. When possible, have another member of your household or business care for any animals. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, wear a cloth face covering; don’t pet, share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet, service animal, or other animals. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
For responsible pet owners, preparing in advance is key. Make sure you have an emergency kit prepared, with at least two weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and any needed medications. Usually we think about emergency kits like this in terms of what might be needed for an evacuation, but it’s also good to have one prepared in the case of quarantine or self-isolation when you cannot leave your home.
Other appropriate practices include not letting pets interact with people or other animals outside the household; keeping cats indoors, if possible, to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people; walking dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals; avoiding dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
While we are recommending these as good practices, it is important to remember that there is currently no reason at this time to think that domestic animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. In this emergency, pets and people each need the support of the other and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.
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by Jackie Kucskar, DVM