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COVID-19 and Household Pets

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The COVID-19 global pandemic impacted our lives, shuttered communities and took away precious human life.  Although humans may not have appreciated staying at home, our animal counterparts have probably enjoyed the benefit of the increased time and attention. In turn, our pets have kept our spirits up during this difficult time. As the virus spreads, many worried pet owners wonder if the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a danger to their pet.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, the agent responsible for COVID-19 in people, probably emerged from animals and is easily transmitted among humans. Tests have shown that some cats and dogs living with a person affected by COVID-19 have been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Fortunately, in these cases, few to no significant disease or respiratory signs developed. Cats appear to be more susceptible than dogs, but both species mount an antibody response. Although it is possible for pneumonia to develop, it does not appear likely in the average dog or cat.

The situation is no different for other household pets. Ferrets are the only exotic pet that reportedly suffer from natural SARS-CoV-2 infection. One ferret in Slovenia with mild gastrointestinal signs tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and a few more ferrets were positive for presence of the virus in Spain. None of these animals seemed to develop a serious condition. Although rabbits and rodents such as hamsters can be experimentally infected with COVID-19, there are no reports of natural occurrence of the disease. Exotic pets, such as birds, reptiles and fish, do not seem to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers continue to evaluate the SARS-CoV-2 impact in companion animals. For now, veterinarians recommend the monitoring of pets experiencing prolonged, close contact with a COVID-19-affected individual. Pet owners should watch for respiratory signs such as nasal discharge, sneezing or coughing in dogs and cats and gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea or anorexia in ferrets. If these signs are present, contact your veterinarian. It should be noted that the Centers for Disease Control currently do not recommend euthanasia of animals only on the basis of a positive test for SARS-CoV-2.

Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of household pets suffering a serious condition as a consequence of SARS-CoV-2 is extremely unlikely. At this time, there is no evidence that household pets play a role in the dissemination of SARS-CoV-2, but more research is needed. For at-risk and vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or immunocompromised, it is recommended that the household implement improved hygiene practices as well as limit outside human and pet interactions. Simple ways to do this include keeping cats indoors, walking dogs on a leash and restricting ferret interactions to people living in the household. These measures can help protect both humans and companion animals.

MEDIA CONTACT: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 | derinda@okstate.edu


 

About the authors: Lara Sypniewski, DVM, DABVP, CVA, CCRP, holds the Henthorne Clinical Professor of Small Animal Medicine and is a professor in the community practice service at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital. Nicola Di Girolamo, DMV, MSc (EBHC), GP Cert (ExAP), Ph.D., DECZM (Herp), DACVZM, is an associate professor in the zoological medicine service at OSU’s Veterinary Hospital.

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital. Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species and 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year. Call 405-744-7000 for an appointment or more information.

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