On your pets: Covid in pets has become a thing
January 22, 2021
In March I wrote a column about Covid and our pets. We have learned a lot about Covid-19 in the past nine months and some of the guidance has since changed. Here is what we know now.
Over the past few months, some domestic animals, including dogs, cats, ferrets, and mink have tested positive for Covid-19. There have also been reports of lions and tigers in zoos becoming sick with Covid. However, despite millions of people testing positive for Covid and becoming ill, very few pets have tested positive and developed respiratory signs. As of December, the CDC does not have an exact number of positive cases in pets, but states “A small number of pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been reported to be infected with the virus that causes Covid-19, mostly after close contact with people with Covid-19.” Not all of the pets who tested positive became sick, and the pets that did test positive had only mild respiratory signs, and fully recovered.
Pets have not been found to be a major cause of the spread of Covid-19. Initially, there was a concern that pet fur may act as a fomite — an object capable of carrying an infectious agent.
Fortunately, this has not proven to be true, and pets have not been shown to be a factor in the spread of Covid-19. The risk of spread from pet to person is very low, and the primary mode of spread still appears to be human-to-human transmission. Laboratory studies found that the coronavirus can spread between animals of the same species in cats, hamsters, and ferrets, but much less likely to spread from dog to dog. Because of the possible spread from cat to cat, it is strongly advised to keep your cat indoors, particularly if you or someone in your household has Covid.
Although the risk to your pets is low, the CDC still recommends taking precautions, especially because more is being learned about the coronavirus every week. If you test positive, the CDC advises treating your pet as you would a person in your household and limit contact with them. The CDC has provided the following guidelines:
When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sharing food, and sleeping in the same bed.
If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a mask and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
If your pet becomes sick during your quarantine period, call your veterinarian. If your veterinarian feels your pet needs to come in for an exam, have a healthy family member or friend bring your pet in. Although it is possible, but unlikely, that your pet is sick with Covid-19, taking precautions is still advised. Your sick pet should be quarantined away from healthy family members and other pets. Do not bring your sick pet to a boarding facility, groomer, or dog park. Do not have dog walkers or petsitters from outside your household. Do not put a mask on your pet as that can cause suffocation, choking, or ingestion of the mask. In multicat households, the sick cat should have its own litter box to which the other cats can’t have access. If your pet develops respiratory signs, make sure you let your veterinarian know of possible Covid exposure. Access to testing pets is very limited, but your vet should be able to assess the signs, determine if treatment is necessary, and help determine how long your pet should quarantine.
The bottom line is that you are more likely to become sick with Covid-19 than your pet is.
Keep treating your pet like you would any other healthy member of your household, and take care of yourself as well.
Writer Jennifer Shepherd is a veterinarian and co-owner of Cloquet Animal Hospital.