Caring for Your Pets if You Have COVID-19
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease of humans that was first discovered in late 2019. The illness is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, which is a new coronavirus that has not previously been identified in humans.
There are many different coronaviruses. In general, each coronavirus affects a different species, causing a unique disease. In humans, coronaviruses typically cause colds and other upper respiratory infections. There are species-specific coronaviruses that affect both dogs and cats. Although all coronaviruses are related, they are all different.
Have any animals tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19?
As of April 30, 2020, there have been several cases of animals testing positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Dogs have tested positive for the virus. There has been only one case of a dog showing respiratory signs; however, it is difficult to confirm if the respiratory signs were directly related to COVID-19. The dogs that have tested positive were exposed to humans that had COVID-19.
Domesticated cats have also tested positive for the virus. Some of the cats became ill with respiratory and breathing problems, and one cat also exhibited vomiting and diarrhea. Almost all the positive cats had known exposure to humans with COVID-19.
Large cats, particularly tigers and lions, have also been affected by the virus. An outbreak at the Bronx Zoo in New York State, likely due to an infected zookeeper, resulted in 4 tigers and 3 lions with coughs and respiratory problems.
Mink have also been affected by COVID-19. Two farms in the Netherlands had an outbreak, with mink becoming ill with breathing problems.
While no pet ferrets have been affected so far, an experimental study showed they are susceptible to this virus and can develop respiratory illness.
At this time (April 30, 2020), no other domesticated animals have become ill or shown signs of being ill with this virus. However, interaction with any species should be avoided if you are ill or suspect you are ill with COVID-19.
What does this all mean? Can pets be infected with COVID-19?
All of the information to date (as of April 30, 2020) indicates that certain animals can be infected by the COVID-19 virus, but it appears to be an infrequent occurrence. In Hong Kong, at least 30 dogs and 17 cats have been tested from homes with owners that were either confirmed COVID-19 cases or were close contacts to a COVID-19 patient, and only two dogs and 1 cat have tested positive. In total, across the globe, only a few dogs and cats have tested positive. Keep in mind that to date, there are over three million human cases of COVID-19 and only a few pets have tested positive and most have not exhibited signs and become ill.
It is important to understand that evidence of infection is not evidence of animals being able to spread the virus to humans. The situation is evolving and is being monitored by animal health experts around the world.
How should I prepare for COVID-19?
If you become infected with COVID-19, you will be unable to leave your home for a period of several weeks. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you have an accessible supply of pet supplies at home so that you can care for your pet while ill.
Also, if you contract COVID-19, you will need to remain quarantined on your property. This may make caring for dogs a bit more challenging. If you have a private yard, you can walk your dog in this area. If you do not have a private yard, you may be able to train your dog to eliminate indoors. This may prove to be challenging, as once a dog is house trained, he is usually very reluctant to eliminate indoors. If attempting to train your pet to eliminate indoors, use potty pads, pet turf, pet artificial grass trays, or another surface for elimination. Train your dog to eliminate on that surface just as you did when you housetrained him as a puppy by using treats and positive reinforcement.
It may help to put your dog’s leash on before walking him to this new elimination area, to reinforce the idea that this is his new elimination area.
It may be necessary instead to hire a dog walker, pet sitter, or find other alternate care for your pet. The dog walker should be well-versed on how to handle your dog while protecting themselves and understand how to practice physical distancing with you during the transfer. See the handouts “Tips for Dog Walkers During the COVID-19 Pandemic” and “Tips for Pet Sitters During the COVID-19 Pandemic” for ways that dog walkers and pet sitters can protect themselves—and you—while caring for your pets.
Be sure to have at least a one-month supply of the following items:
- Pet food
- Pet medications (including flea and heartworm preventives)
- Cleaning supplies (in case your pet has accidents indoors)
- Pet toys
- Potty pads or pet turf for your dog to eliminate (if you do not have access to a private yard)
- Contact information for a dog walker or pet sitting service in case you are unable to care for your pet
- Cat litter
Many of these supplies can be ordered online, allowing you to practice necessary physical distancing during this time.
How should I care for my pets if I have COVID-19?
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, public health officials recommend you restrict contact with pets and other animals as a precaution until more information is known about the virus. Keep your cat indoors if possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people. Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people and animals, and avoid dog parks or trails.
Ideally, have another member of your household care for your pets until you are feeling better. Just as you would quarantine yourself from the other human members of your home while sick, you should also quarantine yourself from your pets. Isolate yourself to a single bedroom/bathroom and allow a healthy family member to handle your pet’s meals, walks, playtime, and snuggle time.
"Ideally, have another member of your household care for your pets until you are feeling better."
If you live alone, you may have no choice but to care for your pets yourself. If this is the case, try to limit contact as much as possible. Consider the following steps to reduce the likelihood of spreading infection to your pets:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your pets.
- Wash your hands before handling your pets’ food and water bowls.
- Limit close contact with your pets, such as snuggling and kisses.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and dispose of the tissues in a hygienic way where pets cannot access them. Be sure to wash your hands after sneezing or coughing.
- Do not share food or sleep with your pet in your bed.
- Wear a mask if possible—even a cloth mask—to decrease droplet spread when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
If you are sick with COVID-19 and your pet becomes ill, do not take your pet to your veterinary clinic yourself. Call your veterinarian and let them know are you sick with COVID-19. Some clinics are offering telemedicine or have other contingency plans in place for seeing sick pets from COVID-19 positive households. See handout "Caring for Your Pets if You Have COVID-19" for more information.
Based on recommendations from the CDC, if you are not ill with COVID-19, you should follow these basic guidelines:
- as a precaution, do not allow your pets to interact with animals or people outside the household.
- keep cats indoors when possible.
- walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people and animals.
- avoid gathering at parks or other public places with other people and pets.
- adhere to local regulations regarding park and trail closures.
Can my pets spread COVID-19 from me to other people?
We do not yet have the necessary information to answer that question. At this time, there are no reports of pets transmitting COVID-19 to people.
Until we learn more, it is best to avoid boarding or rehoming your pet if you are sick with COVID-19. If you are hospitalized and your pets must be cared for by a boarding kennel, day care, dog walker, or pet sitter, inform them that you are ill. This will allow them to take necessary precautions and limit close contact with your pets. If your pet needs veterinary care and you have current or recent signs of COVID-19, please alert your veterinary team in advance of taking your pet to the clinic so that they can take appropriate precautions.
This client information sheet is based on material written by:
© Copyright 2020 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.