Pets and the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

When the current outbreak of novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, first came to light in December 2019, researchers indicated that animals were the likely source of the virus. Then a dog in Hong Kong tested "weak positive" for the virus, spurring people to wonder if their pets could contract the virus. Luckily, the newest evidence indicates that our pets cannot get COVID-19 or become ill from it. Nevertheless, coronaviruses - in general - are common in all animals, so understanding them better is helpful!


First and foremost, what are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses, in general, are a group of viruses that can cause a variety of symptoms, including but not limited to a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, and sometimes intestinal distress. Some are as mild as the common cold (and are often thought of as such), while others are more severe and can develop into pneumonia. These viruses are typically spread through direct contact with an infected person, though community spread may also happen. Community spread is the term given to infection in a particular geographic area where the specific source of infection cannot be identified.

Coronaviruses get their name from crown-like spikes that are found on the surface of the virus. Other well-known coronaviruses, in addition to COVID-19, are SARS and MERS, the former of which you likely recall from its outbreak in 2003. 


Do coronaviruses exist in animals?

There are many different kinds of coronaviruses that exist in many different species, from humans to bats and pangolins (the two most probable sources of the current outbreak) to pigs to dogs and cats and beyond. In fact, coronaviruses can be found in most mammals and birds. However, not all coronaviruses have the ability to infect all mammals or birds. That is, many are species-specific, and jumping to other species is unusual.


Can we get a strain of the coronaviruses from our pets?

Health experts are saying that there is no evidence that pets can get sick from the virus or transmit the disease to humans or other animals. However, that does not mean we shouldn't take the same precautions that we would take to prevent the spread of germs from our pets to our family members. For example, you should wash your hands often with soap and water before and after you interact with your pet. 

You might have recently read about the aforementioned dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for COVID-19. Researchers there have determined that the dog was infected by the virus at a "low level" and, as such, the dog was quarantined and underwent further testing until the results return negative. The virus was found in the canine's mouth and nose, which are dogs' means of exploring the environment around them. The dog did not show any symptoms of COVID-19 and has since been released.


How can I protect my pet against COVID-19?

Again, there's no evidence that your pets can contract or become ill from COVID-19.

To protect your pet from respiratory diseases, in general, see your veterinarian to vaccinate your pet for bordetella, parainfluenza, and canine influenza, which are the most common vaccine-preventable respiratory diseases in pets.


How can I protect myself and my family members from COVID-19?

You've surely seen these protective measures against COVID-19 ad nauseam on the news by now, but it never hurts to reiterate these practical precautions:

Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Watch a video about the recommended hand-washing technique by the World Health Organization. Avoid close contact with people who are ill. Stay home when you are sick or have a fever. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Maintain personal space (six feet is recommended) between you and other people.

These methods are not only designed to keep you from getting the virus but also to prevent others from getting it if you unknowingly have it. As the CDC notes, the virus can be spread between people from droplets from coughs and/or sneezes or touching a surface that has these droplets on them.


What happens if I get COVID-19?

If you become ill with the COVID-19 coronavirus, don't panic. It has been found to be most serious to those whose immune systems are already compromised, and most people will simply experience it as a bad cold. Please do wear a well-fitted mask, however, to help prevent the spread of the virus. Limit contact with other humans and your pets as recommended by your physician and veterinarian.

When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. Avoid direct contact with pets, including snuggling, petting, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a fitted facemask as directed by your physician.


Where can I find more information about COVID-19?

COVID-19 is new and still being researched, so physicians and veterinarians cannot be absolutely certain about the nature of its infection and spread. For more information, please see this advisory from the American Veterinary Medical Association

As always, if you see any symptoms of illness of any kind in your pet, please call your veterinarian to describe the symptoms and get instructions before you bring your pet to the animal hospital or clinic. If you, yourself, are experiencing any signs of respiratory illness, we advise that you please follow the directions of the health authorities; and we kindly request that you do not come to our facilities, but please call us to reschedule any upcoming appointment.


We wish you and your family the best of health! For more information about our hospital's response to this outbreak, please see MSAH Updates: Coronavirus (COVID-19).

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