Using publicly available data from emerging research on COVID-19, this brief was written and reviewed by the Coronavirus-19 Outbreak Response Experts (CORE-19) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. It provides information on the likelihood of pet-to-human and human-to-pet transmission of COVID-19.
Pet Ownership and COVID-19
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 71.5 million (57%) U.S. homes owned a pet at the end of 2016, including 77 million dogs. A recent unpublished study found that 83% of pet owners strongly agreed that their pet made them feel happy. While most owners value the positive role pets play in their life, the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic raise questions about the role of our pets in disease transmission.
At this point, there is no evidence that companion animals, especially dogs, cats, and horses, play a role in the transmission of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 virus is spreading through
While many animal species do have their own species-specific coronaviruses (and have for many years), these are not the same as the coronavirus currently causing the pandemic in humans. The COVID-19 virus is spreading through human-to-human contact.
Many have seen reports of two dogs testing positive for COVID-19 following removal from their infected owners in Hong Kong. One of these dogs did develop an immune response to the COVID-19 virus but no live virus could be cultured. The second dog is still in quarantine. Neither of these dogs was ill and an additional 17 dogs taken from COVID-19 infected owners (in Hong Kong) have tested negative.
Recent research found that even when directly infected with the COVID-19 virus, dogs did not easily become infected or mount an immune response.
While infection of dogs with COVID-19 seems possible, it is rare and is unlikely they would produce enough virus to lead to transmission.
In the past week, two cats have tested positive for COVID-19. One in Hong Kong that was not showing any signs of illness. The second infected cat was identified in Belgium after it was seen by a veterinarian for diarrhea, vomiting and difficulty breathing.
Both owners had been previously diagnosed with COVID-19. Recent research out of China has shown that cats can become infected with COVID-19 and transmit the virus to uninfected cats living in an adjacent enclosure. Based on initial studies, cats seem to be competent reservoirs for the COVID-19 virus, but no instances of cats infecting humans have been identified.
In the SARS-1 coronavirus outbreak of 2003, research showed that ferrets were susceptible to infection with that specific virus. Preliminary research from China has shown that ferrets can become infected with COVID-19 and some develop mild illness. Additional research in Canada examining COVID-19 in ferrets is in progress.
No instances of cats infecting humans have been identified.
While many owners are concerned about the role their pets might play in the transmission of COVID-19, there is no evidence to support any significant role in transmission with any of our companion animals. Animals rarely become infected after close contact with an infected person, and there is no evidence that the virus can then be transferred back to another person.
People infected with COVID-19 should avoid close contact with their pets until we learn more about the virus and its cross-species transmission. There is no reason to abandon your beloved pet due to fears over COVID-19. In fact, with many of us confined to our home, it might be a great time to adopt or foster a shelter animal.