[UPDATE] Can Your Dog (Or Cat Or Ferret) Give You COVID-19?

Can your pet get COVID-19?

April 30, 2020 Update

We published the original post below a few weeks ago. But because of the news about Winston, a Pug in North Carolina who’s tested positive for COVID-19 … I wanted to reassure you.

The answer to the question, “can your dog give you COVID-19” is still … no.

Here’s the story: Winston’s human family … three of them with COVID-19 … were participating in a study at Duke University. And then they found a low level of the COVID-19 virus in Winston’s saliva.

Winston had some very mild symptoms for a few days. He was sluggish, sneezing a little, and breathing heavily … (well, he is a Pug after all). And he didn’t finish breakfast one morning.

Officials say Winston may not even have COVID-19 in his bloodstream. Because they only tested his saliva … he could have picked up the virus by licking it from a person or surface. (The family says he’s a very snuggly dog.)

Another dog and a cat in the household all tested negative. (The lizard wasn’t tested.)

So you still shouldn’t worry about your dog getting COVID-19. The information and advice I provided in the original post still stands!

It seems that every day there’s another story that makes you wonder about this.

Can your pet give you COVID-19? 

The stories circulate around social media like wildfire. Even weeks old, disproven theories still keep popping up. So you might be asking yourself whether there’s something to these theories after all. 

A few pets have tested positive for SARS-Co-V-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 … and so have some big cats in a zoo. 

Most infections seem to have started with a human who had the virus. So, if you or a family member gets COVID-19, can you still snuggle with your pets?

And what about the other way around? 

Do these reports mean your dog could give it to you? Or your cat or ferret? (In a lab study, these two species were infected with the virus).

Are you wondering whether you should be social-distancing from your dog?  People are even disinfecting their pets with bleach, alcohol or peroxide (ugh)! 

So … I did some digging into the reports and studies, and here’s what I found out.

Can Your Dog Give You COVID-19?

Experts and health officials say it’s highly unlikely your dog could give you COVID-19. Even though there’s a lot we don’t know. 

First of all, dogs aren’t susceptible to the virus.

One study in China deliberately set out to infect dogs. But the test dogs didn’t get it. (Neither did pigs, chickens or ducks in the same study, but cats and ferrets did. Read on for more about that.) 

Official organizations like the CDC and AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) repeatedly tell us our dogs can’t get the virus. 

Two dogs in Hong Kong have tested positive, but neither got sick. Both were quarantined as a safety precaution. 

But people are still worried. Most people understand their dog can’t catch COVID-19 or infect them with the virus. 

But some are afraid their dog could bring the virus home on his coat after being outside … especially if another person pets him. 

That’s the reason for the disinfecting I mentioned earlier. Please don’t do that. Bleach and disinfectants are really toxic to your dog

The CDC says there’s no evidence dogs can carry the virus on their fur or skin.

But if you feel you must wash your dog as a precaution, just use shampoo and water to bathe him. Even just wiping your dog down with a damp cloth is enough to keep your family safe.

Consider the numbers. Even with more than a million people infected around the world, only two dogs have tested positive. 

NO dogs have become ill, and none have given the disease to humans.

So again, your dog isn’t going to transmit the virus to you. Snuggle all you want! 

Let’s move on to cats (even though this is Dogs Naturally Magazine). I know many of you have cats as well as dogs. So you may be concerned by some of the reports. 

Can Your Cat Give You COVID-19?

As with dogs, it’s highly unlikely your cat can give you COVID-19.

But some cats have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And they may be able to infect each other.

Let’s talk about those reports.

One cat in Belgium tested positive, after its owner was sick. The cat’s symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea and difficulty breathing) began a week after the owner’s.

But the samples they tested came from the floor … so they could have been tainted. And the cat wasn’t examined for clinical signs. So there are questions about the accuracy of this story.

Another cat in Hong Kong tested positive, but has no clinical signs of disease. The cat is in quarantine.

Then there’s Nadia the tiger in the Bronx zoo. 

Nadia tested positive after exposure to an asymptomatic employee who shed the virus. The disease may have spread to 3 other tigers and 3 lions. Those 6 weren’t tested, but have dry cough and reduced appetite. They’re otherwise “bright, alert” and interacting normally with keepers. 

The other cat story making the rounds is from the same Chinese research study … (the one that failed to infect dogs with the virus). This was a very small study that hasn’t been peer-reviewed or published yet, so you should view it with caution.

Scientists directly inoculated cats and other animals with the virus. The virus replicated in cats and ferrets (but again, not dogs, pigs, chickens or ducks). And two cats may have caught the virus from the inoculated cats. 

Thoughts On The Study About Coronavirus in Animals

The AVMA is skeptical about the study results

  •   They studied a very small number of animals. 
  •   Infecting an animal in a lab doesn’t mean it can catch the virus naturally. 
  •   Only two cats caught the virus from other cats. 
  •   The research hasn’t been peer reviewed or published.

The AVMA casts doubt on a second study, also unpublished. 

Antibodies to SAR-Co-V-2 In Cats

After the Wuhan outbreak, this study tested 102 cats for antibodies to the virus. (In other words, they titered the cats.) They found antibodies in 15 cats. Of the 15, 3 had lived with an owner with COVID-19, 6 were at a vet clinic; 7 were on the street.

There were 87 cats who tested negative, but the study didn’t report whether they’d been exposed to the virus. 

The researchers also did a tissue culture-based neutralizing test (VNT). They found neutralizing antibodies in the 3 cats with owners who had COVID-19. The rest of the cats had very low or non-detectable neutralizing antibodies. 

What does this mean?

The results do provide initial evidence that cats exposed to the virus by infected people can mount an antibody response.

But this only happened in the 3 cats who lived with owners with COVID-19. 

So the results suggest that cats are not easily infected under natural conditions.

What The Experts Say

After describing the studies, the AVMA concludes:

clipping from a report about whether pets can spread COVID-19

Even though both studies are so far unpublished, you can read the preprint versions here and here.

Again, keep in mind there are there are only two cats, plus one tiger, worldwide, who’ve tested positive after being infected naturally. 

So that alone means it’s extremely rare for cats to get the virus. 

And the fact that a cat tests positive for the virus doesn’t mean your cat can transmit it to you. 

So please don’t worry that your cat will give you COVID-19. There are zero cases of cats transmitting the disease to people.

Ferret owners are also concerned.

Can Your Ferret Give You COVID-19?

Again, experts are not worried that ferrets can pass the virus to humans.

Ferrets were also part of the same Chinese study, with similar results to the cats. 

The scientists inoculated the ferrets with the virus. The virus replicated in the upper respiratory tracts of the ferrets. Some ferrets showed clinical signs of disease. 

Two other ferrets housed with the inoculated ferrets did get infected. They died, but pathology exams showed they had fatty liver disease and emaciation. So, there was no evidence the virus caused the deaths.

Once again … the ferrets were artificially infected in a lab. That does not mean that ferrets can catch the virus naturally.

And it doesn’t suggest your ferret can transmit the virus to you.

It’s important to remember, the study was very small, and hasn’t been peer-reviewed or published yet. 

The AVMA’s Conclusion

Here’s what else the AVMA said:

clipping from a report about whether pets can spread COVID-19

Note: Despite the image at the top … it’s a bad idea to try to put a mask on your pet. It may be funny as a social media meme but don’t do it for protection.

  • It could make it hard for him to breathe.
  • The mask will get wet and drooly, so won’t work well anyway.
  • He might eat it and cause digestive problems.

Thousands Of Negative Tests

IDEXX, the veterinary diagnostic testing laboratory, has tested thousands of dogs and cats for SARS-CoV-2.

None tested positive. 

IDEXX says that if your pet has respiratory symptoms, ask your vet to test for more common respiratory pathogens. It’s unlikely to be SARS-CoV-2.

So, whether you have a dog, cat, or ferret … don’t worry that your pet will get sick, or that he’ll carry the virus and make you sick.   

With almost 1.4 million human COVID-19 cases around the world so far …

  •   Only a handful of animals have tested positive. 
  •   No animals have become sick from natural infection. 
  •   There are no reports of a person getting COVID-19 from their pet. 

What If You Get COVID-19?

Well … first of all, I hope you and your family stay safe and don’t get COVID-19. But if you do, health officials advise extreme caution around everyone in your home, including your pets. 

The AVMA, CDC and OIE (World Organization For Animal Health) do say … if you get sick, you should restrict contact with everybody in your home. And that includes your animals. 

Ideally, someone else in your home should look after your pets. But if you have to do it yourself, wear a mask. Don’t share food, kiss or hug them. And wash your hands before and after any contact with them. 

Personally, this official advice does seem over-cautious … but that’s not surprising in today’s environment. 

But now you have the facts about the stories that are circulating … and you can make a well informed decision.

The AVMA stresses …

clipping from a report about whether pets can spread COVID-19

So keep up with social distancing, and washing your hands!

Cuddle your animals a lot (as long as you’re not sick). Get outdoors and take your dog for extra walks. Be well!

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