Pets & COVID-19: What you need to know from health and animal experts

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Many pet-owners became concerned when a North Carolina family’s pet pug became what may be the first reported dog in the United States to test positive for the current coronavirus strain, COVID-19.

But animal and health experts say there is no reason for panic when it comes to concern over household pets contracting and spreading the virus.

“The current issue is pets are not known to be a cause of transmission to people, but they can get exposed from people,” says Dr. Mark Tribby, a veterinarian at High Hill Animal Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.

“We have not seen any transmission from animals to humans, at all,” says Dr. Jose Vazquez, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Augusta University.

Both Dr. Tribby and Dr. Vazquez say people are the danger, not pets.

“Don’t give away your animals, don’t give away your dogs, your cats,” says Dr. Vazquez.

Winston, the North Carolina family pug that tested positive, has since fully recovered.

“And it’s not clear from the studies, was it a true infection or just exposure, because the test that we can test, PCR, it checks for DNA of the virus,” says Dr. Tribby. “It could be dead pieces of the virus like off a doorknob, or if he licks a plate,” added Dr. Tribby.

“Was he really infected, did he he get it in his body, did he get antibodies in his blood? They haven’t released that information, so we don’t know,” Dr. Tribby continued.

Dr. Vazquez says cats are most at risk to get the current virus.

Veterinarians know about other coronavirus species that cause several common diseases in domestic animals. Many dogs for example, are vaccinated for another species of coronavirus (Canine Coronavirus) as puppies.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports two dogs and two cats in Belgium and Hong Kong living with people diagnosed with COVID-19 have been infected.

“The interesting thing about those two dogs, they were positive by PCR, but they were negative when they tried to culture the virus,” said Dr. Vazquez. “And they could never culture the virus,
number one. Number two, they did Serology and they never had an infection,” added Dr. Vazquez.

There is a COVID-19 test for animals available, but Dr. Tribby says you should rule out any other factors that may be the cause for your pet’s health issues before bringing them in for testing.

“We can send the blood off for testing, if they rule out everything else,” said Dr. Tribby.
“And most dogs, as in the case of Winston, he was two or three days, possibly mild symptoms at most and he recovered. So it’s not a concern for veterinarians at the moment,” added Dr. Tribby.

The Centers for Disease Control says the risk of your pet spreading the virus is low. They do have a list of recommendations for pet-owners. The CDC website states until we learn more about how this virus affects animals, treat pets as you would other human family members to protect them from a possible infection.

If you are sick with COVID-19 and your pet becomes sick, do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself. Call your veterinarian and let them know you have been sick with COVID-19. 

“Again, it’s the human to animal transmission, instead of the animal to human transmission,” said Dr. Vazquez.

“It’s actually the humans fault, perhaps the animals should consider getting rid of the humans,” said Dr. Vazquez with a smile.

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