SARS-CoV-2 in pets
This information is provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association
Updated March 2022
Since the initial outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, there have been numerous reports of animals becoming infected with the virus. There’s still a lot to learn about how SARS-CoV-2 affects different animal species, but the primary domestic animals that have been infected are cats and dogs. These species are not easily infected under natural conditions, and there is no evidence that infected cats or dogs spread the virus to other animals or to people. Non-domestic animal species have been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 as well, but evidence suggests that these infected animals also pose little risk to humans—even to handlers and caretakers in close contact—when appropriate personal protective equipment is used.
As veterinarians, we have responsibilities to care for the health and welfare of animals while also mitigating the risk to ourselves, our teams, and our clients. The following resources can help not only answer questions about SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals but also reduce your team’s risk of infection:
For pet owners, preparing in advance is key. The following resources can help pet owners plan for their pet’s care in the event that the owner or the pet is infected with SARS-CoV-2:
It is important to remember that there is no evidence at this time that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. In this pandemic emergency, pets and people each need the support of the other and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.
SARS-CoV-2 in pets and other domestic animals
COVID-19—or coronavirus disease 2019—is the disease that people get from being infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (or SARS-CoV-2). Domestic animals do not get COVID-19 like humans do, but under natural conditions, pet cats—and, to a lesser extent, pet dogs—may, albeit rarely, become infected with SARS-CoV-2 after close and prolonged contact with a COVID-19-positive person. In other words, a person with COVID-19 might transmit the virus that causes this disease to pet cats and dogs (and perhaps pet ferrets) in the same way we might transmit it to another person.
However, there is no compelling evidence to date that any domestic animal, including cats, dogs, and ferrets, readily transmits SARS-CoV-2 to other animals, including humans, under natural conditions. Further, the global number of naturally infected animals is far, far less than the number of people with COVID-19, indicating that animals, including pets, are not a driver of the COVID-19 pandemic—the pandemic continues to be driven by human-to-human transmission.
CLINICAL SIGNS OF SARS-COV-2 INFECTION IN CATS AND DOGS
Although cats and dogs with naturally acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections are often asymptomatic, there are several clinical signs compatible with infection, including a combination of any of the following:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
TESTING PETS FOR SARS-COV-2
Because these are non-specific clinical signs, testing a sick pet for SARS-CoV-2 should ideally be performed only after more common causes of illness have been ruled out. Further, a decision on whether to test an animal for SARS-CoV-2 should be made collaboratively by the pet’s veterinarian in consultation with the owner and in coordination with local, state, and/or federal public health and animal health officials. The CDC has more detailed guidance for state public health veterinarians and state animal health officials regarding testing animals for SARS-CoV-2 infection. And, see more information and resources from the AVMA, including a testing decision flowchart and client handout.
In multiple studies conducted in different laboratories since the start of the pandemic, ferrets—as well as cats—can be readily infected with SARS-CoV-2 after experimental inoculation. Ferrets and cats infected this way may also develop transient mild to moderate abnormal respiratory or gastrointestinal signs and transmit the virus to naïve animals of the same species under controlled conditions.
Dogs, too, can be infected in a laboratory setting, albeit less efficiently and reliably than ferrets or cats. Experimentally infected dogs do not typically develop abnormal clinical signs, nor do they readily transmit SARS-CoV-2 to naïve dogs in these controlled environments. Data regarding experimental infection of other animals are non-existent (e.g., horses), sparse (e.g., cattle, pigs, poultry, rabbits), and at times inconsistent (e.g., pigs, rabbits).
However, we emphasize caution in not overinterpreting the results from only a small number of experimental infection and transmission studies, because:
Experimentally induced infections do not mirror naturally induced infections. Just because an animal can be experimentally infected via direct intranasal or intratracheal inoculation with high concentrations of purified tissue-cultured virus does not mean that it will easily be infected with that same virus under natural conditions.
Experimental transmission studies are typically done under ideal conditions that may include use of negative pressure test chambers and unidirectional flow of HEPA-filtered air from the infected to the naïve animal. Such highly controlled conditions do not reflect conditions found outside a laboratory setting. As such, results should not be used as conclusive evidence that an experimentally infected animal can readily transmit COVID-19 under natural conditions.
The numbers of animals used in these types of experiments is typically small, with conclusions drawn based on data points that are in some cases collected from as few as two animals, making it challenging to draw definitive conclusions regarding all animals of a given species from results of only a few—and in some cases a single—study.
Links to published reports of experimental infection and transmission studies can be found in our compilation of key research articles related to SARS-CoV-2 in non-human animals.
To read full article please visit the AVMA website https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/sars-cov-2-animals-including-pets