Nadia, a tiger at New York City’s Bronx Zoo, tested positive for the coronavirus. A few pet cats in the United States (and maybe one dog) have, too.
And since the novel coronavirus causing the current pandemic is thought to have originated at a live animal market in China, some people have wondered if they need to worry about their own pets.
The good news is that any risk to humans from Fluffy or Fido is very low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bad news? Humans with COVID-19 infections could pose a slight risk to certain animals, such as cats or ferrets., but not dogs
“There have really only been a handful of known domestic animal infections in the entire world,” said Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“There are reports of a few cats in China and two dogs tested positive there, too,” Howe said. Several cats in the United States have also been diagnosed with the virus. Howe added that the animals all had minor symptoms.
And in one case — the first reported infection in a dog in the United States — Howe said he’s not convinced the dog even had any symptoms.
“It’s doubtful the dog [a pug] — was even ill. Pugs have upper respiratory problems anyway. It’s very easy for the test to pick up the presence of the virus in a dog’s mouth, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the dog was infected. The dog could have licked up the virus from any of the people in the household,” Howe explained.
Winston, the pug, was living with a family of four in North Carolina. One family member admitted that the pug was allowed to lick from the family’s plates. In a study at Duke University, three family members and Winston tested positive, according to news reports.
“A daughter, another dog and a cat didn’t test positive,” Howe said.
Not all animals are safe from COVID-19, however. Besides 4-year-old Nadia, four tigers and three lions at the Bronx Zoo reportedly contracted COVID. But leopards, cheetahs and cougars don’t seem to be susceptible, Howe said.
He said there was a report that Dutch workers on a mink farm transmitted the infection to the animals. And, Howe said, ferrets seem susceptible to the infection.
“There has been no evidence yet of people getting COVID from any domestic animal. Coronavirus is no reason to abandon your pets,” Howe said.
While it may be a relief to learn your pooch or feline probably can’t get you sick, there are still precautions you should take, particularly if you have a COVID-19 infection.
If you feel OK and take your dog out for a stroll, it’s important to practice social distancing guidelines, the CDC says. Keep your dog 6 feet from other people and animals. Try to keep your dog from interacting with other people or animals.
Howe said now is definitely not the time to walk your dog using a long, expandable leash. He and the CDC said dog parks are out for now, too.
The CDC says it’s ideal to keep cats indoors to prevent them from interacting with other people or animals.
What if someone pets your dog or cat?
Howe said pet hair tends to be porous and would likely trap virus particles. That means even if someone had virus particles on their hand when they touched your pet, you probably wouldn’t catch the virus by petting your animal, too.
Still, it’s a good idea to wipe the area with soap and water, or bathe your pet, if possible, Howe said. But never use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your pets, because they might lick it off, Howe said.
If you get sick with COVID-19, have another member of your household take over the pet care, if possible, the CDC says. Try to avoid contact with your pet as much as you can. This means no petting, snuggles, licks or sharing food or bedding with your furry pal while you’re sick.
“Just like you would with a child, try to have someone else take care of your pet, but if you have to, make sure you wear a mask around your pet,” Howe said.
The CDC also recommends washing your hands before and after interacting with your pet.
If you’ve been sick and then your pet seems ill, call your vet for advice.