COVID-19 and pets: What you should know

March 25th, 2020

It’s been proven again and again that having a pet contributes to better health. Pets can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels and help manage loneliness and depression.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, having your pet close by is comforting and healthy. Be sure to enjoy a long walk with your dog, or playing with your cat.

Woman hugs her cat, which as long as you are not sick with COVID-19 is ok for pet owners to do.
People who are not ill with COVID-19 do not have to isolate themselves from their pets, but they should continue to practice good hygiene. Photo: Getty Images.

During this pandemic, it’s understandable that people are worried about their pets. While COVID-19 may have emerged from an animal source, there is no evidence that animals, including pets in the United States, are a source of the infection or able to infect others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pets as you normally would, including walking, feeding and playing,” according to the  American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

To date, there have been no documented cases of animals getting sick with COVID-19. Still, veterinary experts have recommendations and guidelines to make sure people and their pets remain safe during this pandemic. Experts, however, advise that people who are sick with COVID-19 avoid contact with pets.

How should I care for and interact with my pet during the coronavirus pandemic?

People who are not ill with COVID-19 do not have to isolate themselves from their pets, but they should continue to practice good hygiene:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after all interactions with your pets.
  • Ensure your pet is kept well-groomed.
  • Regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding materials and toys.

The best way to avoid becoming ill is to avoid exposure to COVID-19. The virus is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets that transfer when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

If your pet is interacting with you or others, there may be a small possibility that the animal could transfer these droplets on their bodies or collar to additional people.

“It’s possible that (the novel coronavirus) can survive on surfaces for minutes, or even hours,” said Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases, during a CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response page Facebook Live on March 18.

Woman walks her dog, which is OK for pet owners to do as long as they don't have COVID-19.
It’s been proven again and again that having a pet has many health benefits. If you are not sick with COVID-19, a walk with your dog is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise. Photo: Getty Images.

However, smooth (non-porous) surfaces, such as countertops and doorknobs, transmit viruses better than porous materials, such as paper money and pet fur, so it is probably unlikely that the new coronavirus would be spread this way, according to the AVMA.

Can’t pets get coronaviruses, and don’t veterinarians have vaccines for them?

“There is a whole world of coronaviruses that affect animals, and there are vaccines for those coronaviruses,” Butler said.

But the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is just that — a new virus that was not discovered until a few months ago. It is part of the coronavirus family, which for humans would include the common cold as well as more serious coronaviruses causing illnesses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARs) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

“The canine coronavirus vaccines available in some global markets are intended to protect again enteric (intestinal) coronavirus infection and are not licensed for protection against respiratory infections,” Dr. Michael Lappin, professor of infectious disease in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Colorado State University, and director of shelter medicine at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, in an article published by CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Because animals can spread other coronaviruses to animals, including humans, those vaccines are useful in those specific diseases. But Lappin clarified, “There is absolutely no evidence that vaccinating dogs with the commercially available vaccines will provide cross-protection against the infection by COVID-19, since the enteric and respiratory viruses are distinctly different variants of coronavirus.”

Currently, there are no vaccines for respiratory coronavirus infections in dogs, he added.

Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick?

Even though evidence doesn’t show that animals can contract or spread the new coronavirus, much remains unknown regarding COVID-19.

The CDC, as well as World Small Animal Veterinary Association and AVMA, recommend that sick people do not handle pets or animals, as there are other coronaviruses that can cause illnesses in pets as well as be transmitted from animals to people. Not handling your animal when you are sick is always a good precaution to prevent your animal from becoming ill.

As such, these organizations recommend that people sick with COVID-19 should avoid animals just as they would other humans until more information is known. This means not sharing food, or hugging or kissing them. Read more on what do to if you think you have COVID-19.

However, if you must be around your pet, such as a service dog, while you are sick, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after interacting with the animal, and wear a face mask.

couple watches chickens in their backyard. COVID-19 doesn't seem to be transfered by animals so pet owners shouldn't be concerned.
While COVID-19 may have emerged from an animal source, there is no evidence that animals, including pets in the United States, are a source of the infection or are able to infect others. If you’re not ill with COVID-19, pet owners can interact with their pets as they usually would as pets can bring joy during hard times. Photo: Getty Images.

How can I prepare now for my pet’s well-being in case I do get sick?

  • Find options for pet care in case you do get sick. This may be asking another household member, a neighbor or a friend if they can help.
  • Stock up on a few supplies for your pet, such as an extra bag of food or cat litter, so that you won’t run out in case you do have to isolate yourself at home or someone has to care for your pet elsewhere.
  • Continue to practice good hygiene now.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after all interactions with your pets.
    • Ensure your pet is kept well-groomed.
    • Regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding materials and toys.

What should I do if I feel my animal is ill?

Because so much is currently unknown about COVID-19, pet owners should call their veterinarian to let the clinic know they are coming in with a sick pet, as each clinic may have slightly different protocols. But in any case, it’s important that the pet owner specify if that pet has been in contact with someone with or suspected of having COVID-19, Butler said.

For all updates and to read more articles about the new coronavirus, please visit uchealth.org/covid19

Veterinarian Robin Van Metre with Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation Hospital said pet owners needing emergency care should call before they arrive at the hospital. Hospital staff are trying to do a majority of the intake over the phone in an effort to eliminate visitors entering their building and to keep employees safe during this pandemic.

“We’ve always had a very open-door policy where we’ve supported that connection between an owner and their pet as long as possible when they come in for care,” she said. “But that’s changed in this current environment.”

Currently, pet owners are asked to stay in their vehicles. Paperwork and care estimates are now being approved in the parking lot, and staff members are transferring animals into the hospital, wearing special protective gear to keep them safe from the possibility of human-to-human transfer of the coronavirus. The hospital has restricted all owner visitations, with the exception of two family members when a pet is being euthanized.

“It’s a whole new world dealing with human infections versus animal infection,” Van Metre said, adding that these hospital protocols are changing and developing as we move through this pandemic.

Should I be worried about imported animals or animal products?

The CDC does not have any evidence to suggest that imported animals or animal products pose any risk for spreading COVID-19. Imported animals and animal products still must pass the normal guidelines set by the CDC, USDA and other federal regulatory agencies.

The CDC is constantly updating its recommendations and information on the coronavirus and pets. Please visit that site for more details and updates.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.