For close to a year now, our world has been turned upside down by COVID-19. We have struggled to adjust to a new normal of wearing masks, working from home, virtual learning, and on-line shopping. Through the ups and downs, our pets have been an unchanging source of comfort, companionship, and joy. As part of Town and Country Animal Hospital’s commitment to our clients and their furry friends, we want to provide some information about COVID-19 and pets.
It has long been known that pets can be affected by species-specific coronaviruses. A feline coronavirus infection can cause gastrointestinal (GI) or occasionally respiratory signs, or may lead to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) if the cat mounts an immune response to a mutated virus form. FIP is a complex, often fatal disease characterized by thoracic (i.e., chest) or abdominal fluid accumulation, and/or damage to multiple organ systems. Dogs infected with the enteric canine coronavirus may experience mild vomiting and diarrhea. Canine respiratory coronavirus is a contributor to kennel cough complex, a highly contagious respiratory condition caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria. While canine and feline coronavirus can cause respiratory signs, note that these are not the virus that causes COVID-19.
Risk of pets contracting COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, researchers continue to learn more about animal species that could also be infected by the virus. A recently published study from the University of California, Davis, predicted the susceptibility of 410 species of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals to COVID-19. The study also indicated that when looking at pets or common livestock, cats, cattle, and sheep are in the medium-risk group, with dogs, pigs, and horses in the low-risk group. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that fewer than 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pets were reported worldwide, compared with more than seven million human cases between January 1, 2020, and June 8, 2020. This demonstrated that pets can be infected, but the number of affected pets is extremely low compared to the number of affected people. The infected pets are thought to have contracted COVID-19 from a positive person, and positive pets are considered highly unlikely to have significantly contributed to the COVID-19 spread. Person-to-person transmission is still the main method of COVID-19 spread, so there is no reason to get rid of your pet because you are concerned they will give you COVID-19.
Interactions between COVID-19-positive people and pets
If you test positive for COVID-19, another household member should care for your pet while you are sick, and you should refrain from snuggling, hugging, or kissing your pet or sharing food or bedding, since there is a small risk that your pet could contract COVID-19 from you. If no one else is available to care for your pet or you have a service animal, wear a mask when caring for them. Always practice good hygiene and hand washing whenever you interact with your pet, and especially if you have COVID-19. If your pet requires urgent medical care while you are ill, contact our Town and Country Animal Hospital team so we can determine the best course of action, and ask a friend or family member to transport your pet to our hospital. Thankfully, COVID-19 transmission on fur, leashes, blankets, or other porous surfaces is low-risk, as transmission occurs primarily through direct person-to-person contact. Secondary transmission from contaminated nonporous surfaces such as door knobs or countertops is also unlikely, so your friends or family members should be relatively safe to interact with your pet.
COVID-19 testing of pets
Although COVID-19 pet testing is possible, pets are not routinely tested for the virus at this point. If your pet develops respiratory or GI signs, they more likely have an illness other than COVID-19. If our veterinarians rule out the common respiratory and GI diseases and suspect your pet could have COVID-19, we will work with local, state, or federal public health and animal health officials to determine the next steps.
Our team’s response to COVID-19
For the safety of our team and pet owners, we continue to adhere to a curbside model, which means that a team member will transport your pet into the clinic for their examination while you remain in your vehicle. Our team will then contact you to discuss examination findings and any necessary next steps, so ensure you can be easily reached by phone. We understand that sending your pet into the clinic alone can be difficult, and promise that we continue to treat your pet with the utmost care, love, and respect. They will get as many cuddles and treats—if not more—as you have come to expect. We miss seeing your smiling faces and look forward to the time when we can interact in-person again, but in the meantime, rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you, your pet, and our team members healthy and safe.
If you have any questions about COVID-19 and pets, or would like more details on our curbside protocols, don’t hesitate to contact our Town and Country Animal Hospital team.