There have been news reports that two dogs (both in Hong Kong) and two cats (one in Belgium and one in Hong Kong) tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, but there were no clear clinical signs of disease. The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories has recently confirmed the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19, in one tiger at a zoo in New York. Other tigers and lions also showed symptoms but were not tested. Another study identified coronavirus antibodies in otherwise healthy cats in a shelter. These reports suggest that cats and dogs could be infected by coronavirus.
In addition to these instances of potentially spontaneous infection with coronavirus, non-peer reviewed reports of experimental studies in animals are available. These reports indicate that ferrets, cats, and dogs can be experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2 when exposed to high quantities of the virus. Cats and ferrets were reported to transmit the infection to other cats or ferrets under the same situations. However, only limited symptoms of disease were present. Together, these results suggest that low level infection is possible in ferrets, cats, and dogs. However, there is no indication that these species are capable of transmitting, especially from a naturally occurring infection, the disease to humans or sustaining it in the pet population. Ongoing research, including studies at the Cummings School, will help understand the nature and potential of infection and transmission in animal hosts.
Out of an abundance of caution and until more is known about this coronavirus, we recommend that, if you are ill with COVID-19, you restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. When possible, have another member of your household or business take care of feeding and otherwise caring for any animals, including pets. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, wear a cloth facemask; don’t pet, don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
Please consult the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites for more information.
Cummings School is helping us learn more about COVID-19 and pets
Scientists at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine are joining in the international effort to understand and combat the COVID-19 pandemic through research. Studies underway hope to contribute to our understanding of whether pets can get infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and develop COVID-19. Through surveillance sampling of pets and other animals in close contact with humans during the spread of COVID-19 in New England, we hope to learn whether animals are infected and can shed virus and what types of interactions facilitate transmission between infected humans and their animals.