On April 22, the CDC announced the first National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL)-confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in two pet cats in New York State. These are the first pets in the United States to test positive for SARS-CoV-2. Currently we have no information that suggests that pets might be a source of infection for people with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
While cats have their own types of coronaviruses, these cats were tested specifically for the SARS-CoV-2 strain. Both cats showed mild respiratory signs and are now fully recovered. It is believed that the cats contracted the virus from a human in their household.
These two new US animal cases are added to the previously reported 8 big cats (5 tigers and 3 lions at the Bronx Zoo) that were found to be positive. It is important to note that all testing of animals is using specific veterinary-only testing labs, meaning that testing supplies were not taken away from humans in order to perform the tests. There are two cats and two dogs that have tested positive outside the US, with only one of those cats showing clinical respiratory signs.
At this time, there is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to humans. While there seems to be a chance of spreading the virus from humans to pets, this risk appears low as the veterinary testing laboratories have tested thousands of samples with only a few positives over the past few weeks. 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 parts 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