Covid-19 and Pet Ownership

By Charlotte Dye BVM&S PhD DSAM(feline) DipECVIM-CA MRCVS

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Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been speculation as to its implications with regards to Covid-19 and pet ownership. There were four important questions:

  1. Can cats and dogs be infected with Covid-19?
  2. Do cats and dogs become ill if they are infected with Covid-19?
  3. Could infected cats and dogs transmit infection to humans?
  4. Could healthy cats and dogs increase the risk of human infection by carrying Covid on their coats?

Can cats & dogs be infected?

It has now been confirmed that both cats and dogs can be infected with Covid. However, as far as we are aware, this is very uncommon.

In comparison with humans, it appears that dogs and cats are relatively resistant to infection. In fact, there has so far been only one confirmed case of Covid in a cat in the UK. If infected, animals can develop symptoms similar to those seen in humans.

Covid and pets; will my pet be ill?

Worldwide, both respiratory (breathing problems) and gastrointestinal (vomiting and diarrhoea) signs have been documented in cats and dogs testing positive for Covid.

Can I catch Covid-19 from an animal?

Importantly, in the cases reported so far, transmission appears to have been only from owners to their pets, not the other way around. This suggests that infected dogs and cats are not an important factor with regards to the spread of Covid to humans.

Because of this, the message to owners is that their pets are unlikely to a significant risk to them. However, if the owner tests positive for Covid, it might be sensible to restrict contact with the pet, and to wear a mask.

Can healthy dogs & cats increase the risk of human infection?

Since Covid can survive on surfaces, it could in theory be carried on an animals fur. Some people have suggested that cats should be kept inside to prevent them transmitting the infection. Fortunately, Covid is transferred much more easily from hard surfaces (such as plastic, wood or metal), so stroking or playing with a soft, hairy pet is unlikely to lead to transmission. Cats also tend to keep themselves to themselves when out and about, so this precaution is probably unnecessary.

Preventing the spread

Similar to our avoidance of contact with other humans, it may be sensible to avoid contact with other peoples pets. Needless to say, observation of good hygiene practices (regular handwashing, particularly after handling animals and before eating, and avoidance of direct facial contact) remains essential and should negate any such risk.

Covid is killed by nearly all common disinfectants and does not survive well when in contact with soap or alcohol. As such it is relatively easy for us to maintain clean hands and a clean household environment. We must remember though that even seemingly benign hand sanitiser products can be irritant to dogs and cats. There is a risk that toxic chemicals contained in wipes and gels may be ingested later during grooming, so ensure pet safe products are used.

In summary

Covid infection of dogs and cats is possible and may result in illness; however, this is extremely rare. There are no confirmed reports of transmission from infected pets to humans. The risk of picking up Covid from stoking cats and dogs is extremely low. As such, there is currently no need for owners to have any particular concerns about owning a pet.

If you do have any concerns, contact your local practice to book an appointment.

This article was written by Charlotte Dye BVM&S PhD DSAM(feline) DipECVIM-CA MRCVS

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