Update: The USDA has announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus infection in a dog (a German shepherd) in New York state. Officials said one of the dog’s owners tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and another showed symptoms prior to the dog showing signs of respiratory illness. CDC guidelines continue to state that there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the novel coronavirus, and based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low.
Global and U.S. health authorities have stated that there is no evidence at this time that domestic animals can transmit the novel coronavirus to humans. But recent reports about humans transmitting the coronavirus to a handful of animals under their care (two pet dogs, a pet cat and a captive tiger) have led to some speculation and concern about infected animals, particularly pets, transmitting the virus back to people in close contact with them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the veterinary community, including our colleagues at the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, have been following this situation and the latest research closely and report that companion-animal-to-human transmission is not a known risk. According to Dr. Gail Hansen, DVM, MPH, at this time there is not a single case of a pet spreading COVID-19 to humans. “This illness is spread from person to person. The best thing we can do is to focus on keeping our family members, including our animal companions, safe and healthy.”
To address pet owner concerns, I asked Dr. Hansen and members of our HSVMA staff some of the most pressing questions pet owners have raised. Here’s what they told me, along with some tips on keeping human and animal family members safe and healthy. I hope you will find these helpful.
Can I get COVID-19 from my pet?
There is no evidence at present that animal companions can transmit the disease to humans, according to the CDC, the WHO and the veterinary community. The current rapid spread of the virus is a result of human-to-human transmission. Instances of companion animals contracting COVID-19 have been extremely rare, with only a handful of cases reported worldwide. Experts suspect these are instances of human-to-animal transmission. The best way to protect yourself, your family and your companion animals is to avoid contact with those outside your family, practice good distancing protocols, and frequently wash your hands.
What should I do if someone in my house is sick with COVID-19? How should I care for my pets in that situation?
If you or a family member becomes sick, it’s best to treat your pet as you would any other family member. That includes separating the sick family member from others, including pets, seeking medical advice and practicing appropriate cleaning, care and distancing, including from pets.
If your pet becomes sick, separate them from other pets and the rest of the family, closely monitor their symptoms, and contact your veterinarian for care and cleaning instructions to keep you and your loved ones safe.
In nearly all situations, it is best for a pet to remain in his or her home, to avoid the stress of being transferred to another home or shelter, and to have a family member or friend take care of the pet if you become too ill to do so.
How can I best protect my family, including my pets, during this pandemic?
The best thing you can do to protect your family is to wash your hands frequently, practice distancing and stay at home with your family members. You should consider an emergency plan for your family, including your pets, in case you become ill. Some suggested steps: identify a family member or friend who can care for pets if someone in the household becomes too ill to handle that responsibility; keep crates, food and extra supplies on hand for movement of pets if necessary; make copies of vaccination records and contact information for your pet’s veterinarian available in the event boarding becomes necessary; ensure that all medications are documented with dosages and directions; ensure that pets have proper identification, including a collar with ID tag and a microchip with current information.
How can I best help animals in my community? Do shelters and rescues still need help?
Absolutely! Shelters and rescue groups nationwide have done an amazing job of getting animals out of shelters and into foster and adoptive homes during this crisis. The main reason for doing so is to protect employees and volunteers who would otherwise be needed to care for the animals and to limit the use of scarce supplies and protective equipment. This response also serves to protect the animals who could potentially be exposed to additional stress and illness in the shelters as the pandemic progresses.
We continue to support these efforts to keep animals out of shelters through a variety of measures. Shelter space needs to be reserved for handling only urgent cases. Whatever we can do in our communities to ensure that animals stay with their families and out of shelters will make a great difference. Donating to a food bank, offering to foster an animal or helping a senior or non-mobile neighbor by delivering animal supplies are just a few examples of ways we can help. Contact your local shelter or rescue group to find out what you can do to be of service.
The HSUS and our affiliates are working hard to ensure that families can remain together and stay well during the coronavirus crisis. Our Pets for Life and Rural Area Veterinary Services programs are delivering essential services, including pet food, to families in need so they can continue to care for their own companions. Our Shelter and Rescue Partners program has created a tool kit to assist animal shelters in their efforts to provide for animals in their communities and we are providing shelters and rescue groups with grants to help them weather these difficult times. Our thanks to the Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt Charitable Trust for their generous grant to provide organizations, municipal/tribal agencies and veterinary partners with direct financial support for the care of animals who are victims of the COVID-19 crisis. We are also grateful to our partner, Chewy.com, for donating pet food for the Native American communities in North and South Dakota.
You can help too, by fostering or adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue. As Dr. Hansen says, our pets play an important and positive role in our lives during these uncertain times and the powerful human-animal bond will help us get through this crisis.
For more information, visit the CDC webpage on COVID-19 and animals.