The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Are Pets Like People?

COVID-19 Transmission and Pets

A Policy Brief by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy

in Partnership with the Coronavirus-19 Outbreak Response Experts (CORE-19)

March 26, 2020 (updated April 3, 2020)
Tennessee State Capitol and Flag
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  A recent unpublished study found that 83% of pet owners strongly agreed that their pet made them feel happy.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.
Recent research out of China found that pigs, ducks and chickens were not susceptible to infection with the virus.  While developing a veterinary-specific COVID-19 test, IDEXX, an independent US laboratory, tested 4,000 dog, cat and horse samples from South Korea and the US, including infected regions such as Seattle.  None of the samples were positive for COVID-19.
The COVID-19 virus is spreading through
human-to-human contact. 

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.    
This brief is part of a series that will be produced by the CORE-19 team over the next few weeks forecasting the health and economic impact of the virus. The Department of Health for the State of Tennessee is also providing ongoing updates. As this is an emerging issue dealing with a novel virus, information included here is potentially subject to revision as new research and data emerge. 
More information can be found here:

Coronavirus-19 Outbreak Response Experts (CORE-19) 

Dr. Marcy Souza

Dr. Marcy J. Souza, DVM, MPH

Souza is an associate professor and Director of Veterinary Public Health in the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.  Her teaching and research focuses on zoonotic diseases and food safety issues. 
Dr. Kathleen Brown

Dr. Kathleen C. Brown, PhD, MPH

Brown is an Associate Professor of Practice in the Department of Public Health and the Program Director for the Master's in Public Health (MPH) degree. Her research focuses on the health and well-being of individuals and communities. She has experience in local public health in epidemiology, risk reduction and health promotion.
Dr. Katie Cahill

Dr. Katie A. Cahill, PhD

Cahill is the Associate Director of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. She also is the Director of the Center's Leadership & Governance program and holds a courtesy faculty position in the Department of Political Science. Her area of expertise is public health policy. She leads the Healthy Appalachia project. 
Dr. Kristina Kintziger

Dr. Kristina W. Kintziger, PhD, MPH

Kintziger is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and the co-Director of the Doctoral Program. She has worked in academia and public health practice, and comes to Tennessee from the Florida Department of Health, where she worked as an epidemiologist and biostatistician. She is an environmental and infectious disease epidemiologist.
Dr. Matthew Murray

Dr. Matthew N. Murray, PhD

Murray is the Director of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. He also is the Associate Director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research and is a professor in the Department of Economics in the Haslam College of Business. He has led the team producing Tennessee's annual economic report to the governor since 1995. 
Dr. Agricola Odoi

Dr. Agricola Odoi, BVM, MSc, PhD

Odoi is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. He teaches quantitative and geographical epidemiology and his research interests are in population health and impact of place on health and access to health services. He was a public health epidemiologist before joining academia.
Disclaimer: the information in this policy brief was produced by researchers, not medical or public health professionals, and is based on their best assessment of the existing knowledge and data available on the topic. It does not constitute medical advice and is subject to change as additional information becomes available. The information contained in this brief is for informational purposes only. No material in this brief is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and the University of Tennessee makes no warranties, expressed or implied, regarding errors or omissions and assumes no legal liability or responsibility whatsoever for loss or damage resulting from the use of information provided.
Howard H. Baker Jr Center for Public Policy
1640 Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
Phone: 865-974-0931
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