COVID-19 and pets: What you should know

April 5, 2021

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

During the COVID-19 pandemic, pets have comforted us and helped us stay healthy. Dog adoptions surged. New puppies joined families. And cats kept people entertained during the toughest months of lockdowns and surging infections. Since pets are very much part of our families, it’s understandable that some people worried about their pets’ health. While COVID-19 probably 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).

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.

The risk of animals spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to people is considered low at this time. It does appear, however, that the virus can spread from people to animals in some situations, especially during close contact.

“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 experts at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Conversely, if you are sick with COVID-19, experts advise you to avoid close contact with pets. The National Council for Safety, Protection and Wellness offer this guide.

We have reviewed recommendations and guidelines from veterinary experts to help you keep your pets safe during the pandemic.

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

Treat your pet like anyone else in your household. 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 and take other precautions:

  • 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.
  • Never put a mask on your pet as it could hurt the animal.
  • Avoid areas where large numbers of people gather. You and your pet should stay at least 6 feet from others who reside outside your household.

The best way to avoid becoming ill is to avoid exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus is spread from person to person, or person to animal, through respiratory droplets that transfer when an infected person coughs or sneezes. So, be sure to keep your distance from people outside your home unless you’ve all been vaccinated.

There is no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur, or hair of pets, according to the CDC. Do not wipe or bathe your pet with chemical disinfectants, alcohol or any other cleaner. Talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about appropriate products for bathing or cleaning your pet.

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.

Can’t pets get COVID-19, and don’t veterinarians have vaccines for coronaviruses?

Yes. We know that companion animals, like cats and dogs, as well as some zoo and farm animals, have gotten COVID-19. Studies have shown that many mammals can be infected with the virus, while laboratory mice, chickens and ducks do not seem to become infected. These findings were based on a small number of animals and did not show whether animals can spread infection to people.

Animals are known to get other types of coronaviruses, and there are vaccines for those coronaviruses, but not for COVID-19.

“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,” wrote 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 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?

CDC guidelines, as well as those from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association and the 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 strategy for keeping your animal healthy.

So, if you are feeling sick and suspect you have COVID-19, avoid animals just as you would other humans. This means not sharing food, or hugging or kissing them. If you have a service dog and must stay close to your pet 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. Do not put a face mask on your animal.

couple watches chickens in their backyard. COVID-19 doesn't seem to be transfered by animals so pet owners shouldn't be concerned.
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.

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

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.

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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. Staffs continue to do a majority of the intake over the phone 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 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?

CDC researchers do 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.