Pets and COVID-19: An Explainer

Every pet owner has probably wondered: Can I give COVID-19 to my pet? Can my pet give it to me? But at this point, veterinarians can’t provide definitive answers. Research in this area is still developing, and scientists don’t yet have the complete picture of how COVID-19 behaves in the animal world.

Here’s what we do know: According to the latest research, humans are much more likely to give COVID-19 to their pets than they are to catch it from their animal companions. This might be a bit counter-intuitive since COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means that it originates in animals. It is believed to have come from wild bats via the live animal market in Wuhan, but at this point, it’s not clear how the virus made the leap from bats to humans.

There are some small studies that suggest certain animals can contract the disease, but the virus has different effects on each species, and initial animal studies show that COVID-19 does not produce the same symptoms in animals as it does in humans. Preliminary research suggests that many animals seem to not be susceptible to the virus at all.

It’s important to distinguish between the family of viruses called “coronaviruses” and COVID-19. COVID-19 is caused by the virus that scientists dubbed SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses can cause a host of illnesses, including the common cold. Dogs and cats are prone to coronaviruses diseases besides COVID-19. For instance, canine coronavirus, or CCoV, is a virus that causes an intestinal infection or "kennel cough". Feline coronavirus, FCoV, is usually asymptomatic, but can cause diarrhea. As their names suggest, both canine coronavirus and feline coronavirus are specific to their species, and humans don’t need to worry about contracting either of these illnesses from their pets.

Here’s what we know so far and COVID-19 and pets, and the most important pieces of information to share with your clients.

Can Pets Get COVID-19 from Humans?

Good news for dog owners: Studies suggest that the virus doesn’t replicate well in dogs, making it unlikely that they can contract or transmit the virus. The dogs that have contracted COVID-19 did not develop clinical symptoms.

Unfortunately, evidence suggests that cats can contract COVID-19, although their symptoms don’t present in exactly the same way as they do in humans. It is similar in that it causes inflammation in cats’ upper respiratory tract and makes breathing difficult. One cat with COVID-19 also had diarrhea and vomiting. There has been a documented case of a cat giving COVID-19 to another cat, via airborne transmission.

Here what we know so far about how COVID-19 in other pets:

Can Pets Transmit COVID-19 to Humans?

Although COVID-19 originated in wild animals, there isn’t yet any evidence that domesticated animals are a threat to humans. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is primarily spread by asymptomatic humans. But as with so much surrounding this virus, scientists can’t state for certain that animal to human transmission is impossible.

What Can We Do to Keep My Pets Safe?

Based on the information we have now, most of the concern should stem from infected humans transmitting the disease to pets. Just like with human-to-human transmission, thorough hand washing is one of the best defenses. Pet owners should make sure their animals don’t have contact with other animals, including other pets and wildlife they might encounter outside.

Clients who are ill, or who suspect they may have been infected, should do their best to isolate themselves from their pets, just as they would from other members of their household. Of course, pet owners who live alone don’t have much choice but to provide some hands-on care. Pet owners who are concerned about transmitting the disease should wash their hands as much as possible, wear a mask when interacting with their pet, and prevent their animals from licking them. At that point, it’s also a good idea to get in touch with a vet for more advice on what signs and symptoms to look out for in their pet.

Make sure clients know that if they believe their pets were exposed to COVID-19, they can take them to a veterinary clinic for a test. Emphasize that they must call ahead before bringing their pet to the clinic, and as always, they should make every effort to stay home if they believe they have been exposed to the virus or have symptoms — this is definitely the time to make use of the curbside service, and to have a relative or a friend bring their pet if at all possible.

COVID-19 is already incredibly stressful, but services like TeleTails can help take the edge off the uncertainty. Make sure to underline with your clients: If you’re following the CDC guidelines for safety precautions, you’re already on track to keep yourself and your pet healthy and happy.

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