A New Report Says Cats Probably Won’t Get Sick From Coronavirus

by Caroline Burke
Originally Published: 
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Reading about the coronavirus pandemic can be scary — so many statistics are changing by the day, as is scientists' understanding of how the virus works. In early days of the virus' spread, many people were concerned about whether they could give their pets coronavirus, or vice versa, and there wasn't too much evidence to say that was possible. Now, over six weeks into stay-at-home measures throughout much of the United States, a small number of pets getting infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 have emerged. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still says the risk of animals spreading coronavirus to people is low and that there's still no proof pets play a significant role in spreading the virus, the federal agency updated its social distancing guidelines to include pets on April 28. So, if you've been walking your dog, you'll now want to make sure they're keeping a distance from other humans and animals, too.

How To Practice Social Distancing With Pets

The CDC's latest recommendation for pets is that you treat them like you would humans when it comes to protecting against coronavirus — making sure they avoid contact with people and animals outside your household. For dogs on a leash, it's recommended pets keep a 6-foot distance from humans and animals. And yes, you'll want to avoid dog parks, too.

Can Cats Test Positive For Coronavirus?

While health experts are still learning about coronavirus, it is known it's mostly spread from human-to-human, even though it came from an animal source initially. The CDC reports that a small number of dogs and cats have been infected after close contact with humans who have COVID-19 — but only a few of those animals showed signs of illness, and none have given the virus to people.

A tiger at a zoo in New York City was the first case of an animal testing positive for the virus that leads to COVID-19. It led to lions and other tigers showing symptoms of a respiratory illness at the zoo, too. Public health officials believe these cats contracted it after they into contact with a human who had coronavirus. In May, a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that felines can pass the new coronavirus to each other, The New York Times reported, but they may not show symptoms.

Can Dogs Test Positive For Coronavirus?

A report in early March showed that a dog in Hong Kong tested "weakly positive" for the same coronavirus that has been infecting humans across the world. According to the South China Morning Post, the 17-year-old Pomeranian was quarantined in a government facility beginning February 26. Blood tests conducted on March 12 and 13 returned negative for the virus, and the dog was returned to its owner on March 14. The owner, who has since recovered from COVID-19, said that the dog passed away on March 16 but would not allow an autopsy, so its cause of death is unclear. Three other animals were placed under suspected quarantine in Hong Kong, but have tested negative for the virus.

Dogs, especially puppies, are susceptible to a different strain of the virus, known as canine coronavirus disease (CCoV). According to the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), CCoV causes gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and does not affect humans. Regardless, WHO suggests you always wash your hands with soap and water after touching your pet to prevent the passage of common bacteria.

Different Coronavirus Strains Affect Different Pets

Dr. Niels Pedersen, Ph.D., a professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the U.C. Davis Veterinary Medicine School, tells Bustle that most species that humans come in close contact with have some type of coronavirus. "The feline and dog coronaviruses, which people are most interested in, do not infect humans and vice versa," he says.

Humans have their own genetically distinct types of coronaviruses and while cross species transfer does happen, it only occurs after significant mutation and over "many years, centuries and millennia," according to Pedersen.

He says it's possible that this particular coronavirus mutated and moved from bats to anteaters, where it mutated again and infected humans. That being said, there's been dispute over the anteater theory and more research needs to be done. Regardless, Pedersen explains, "Once in humans, the virus seems to have mutated even further and became fully adapted to growth in humans."

Should You Quarantine Your Pet?

Until more evidence is found, the CDC recommends treating pets like humans. So, if you or someone in your household is sick with coronavirus you should consider quarantining your pet, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

If you're sick, avoid contact with your pet and have another member of your household take care of them. "If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them," the CDC recommends.

Is There A Coronavirus Vaccine For Pets?

There's no COVID-19 vaccine for pets, and according to Dr. Shelley Rankin, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, there likely won't be one in the immediate future, either. "That’s [not] everybody’s top priority right now," she told Science Magazine. "It should be discussed, however, if we start seeing more cases like the Hong Kong Pomeranian."

How To Protect Your Pet From Coronavirus

The best thing you can do for your pet is practice good social distancing — and per CDC's latest recommendations, have them do it, too. To Science Magazine, Dr. Rankin talked about the other ways people can care for their pets during the coronavirus outbreak. "If you get sick and are quarantined, you should make sure you have extra pet food on hand," she said. "And you should make your neighbors aware of any feeding, walking, or medications that your pets need in case you can’t make it back home."

At the end of the day, taking all the necessary precautions to ensure you stay healthy is the best thing you can do for your pet. If you don't have a pet, and the social distancing is starting to get to you, consider adopting or fostering a pet. The coronavirus outbreak has sparked a 70% increase in pet foster care, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

In the meantime, you can also stay up to date on the latest news around the coronavirus by following the social media accounts of organizations like the WHO and CDC.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.


Dr. Niels Pedersen, Ph.D., professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

Additional reporting by Olivia Bowman.

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