What pet owners need to know about protecting animals from coronavirus

There’s no evidence pets can transfer the coronavirus to their owners, but they could catch it from humans and exhibit similar symptoms, animal experts say.

“The cats that we have seen, both have had mild upper respiratory symptoms with a runny nose, dry cough [and] perhaps some sneezing,” said Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian for Chewy Health.

“The same with the pug that was diagnosed.”

The two cats and dog that tested positive for COVID-19, before recovering, all lived in homes with humans who also had a positive diagnosis.

It does not appear that companion animals spread it among themselves, Nelson said.

“The dog in North Carolina lived with a cat and another dog and both of those pets tested negative, as well as the human daughter tested negative,” Nelson said.

Nelson addressed the question that likely has crossed many pet owners’ minds: How can pets be kept safe if someone in the same house is diagnosed with the virus?

She suggests that pet owners who are diagnosed with COVID-19 have someone else temporarily care for the animals.

If that’s not possible, she suggests owners limit contact — no snuggling or kisses — and wash up well before and after contact.

There is a test available to determine whether a pet has the virus. But, as is the case with humans, there’s a list of prerequisites for testing to be approved.

  • The pet has to be living with a human diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • The pet has already been examined by a veterinarian and had other likely upper respiratory infections ruled out.
  • The pet, especially cats and ferrets, is showing clinical signs.

To date, about 3.2 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the virus, compared to just a handful of animals.

“We know of three cats, three dogs, a mink in Belgium and some tigers in New York. So, it does not appear as though transmission of this happens frequently,” Nelson said.

Still, Nelson said she believes it be prudent to stay informed and continue to take common sense hygiene precautions.

“So, we can continue to keep our pets safe from us,” Nelson said.

“They give us so much comfort and unconditional love, we want to do everything we possibly can to keep them safe.”

Find the latest information known about the coronavirus and animals on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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