In early March 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 novel coronavirus is a global pandemic. In the panic over the spread of the virus, people are worried not only about their own health but the health of their dogs, cats, and other pets. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare.”
It’s important to clarify the facts currently known about the coronavirus, and the big question on dog owners’ minds: can dogs get coronavirus? And if so, how can we help protect our dogs (and ourselves)?
We have known for decades that dogs can contract coronaviruses, most commonly the canine respiratory coronavirus (not COVID-19). The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is not believed to be a health threat to dogs.
There is a May 2021 report about the finding of a canine coronavirus in a small number of Malaysian hospitalized patients in 2018. This not the same coronavirus as the one that causes COVID-19. The report signifies correlation, but not causation in those patients and at this time, the virus does not appear to pose any significant human health concern. These findings were a result of a new test that has a more refined way of detecting the changes a virus must go through in order to infect humans. This new information may, hopefully, be helpful in future early detection of new coronavirus infections, as well as treatment and prevention.
Can Dogs Contract COVID-19?
While COVID-19 is not known to be a threat to dogs, dogs can test positive for the virus.
A Pug named Winston in Chapel Hill, North Carolina was thought to be the first known case of a dog testing positive for COVID-19 in the United States. However, subsequent testing has concluded that the dog never contracted the virus. “While there was a weak detection from the original oral sample, it did not meet the case definition for a positive, and all other testing was negative,” said Lyndsay Cole, a spokesperson for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Three family members who lived in the home, two of whom are front-line health care workers, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Two pet dogs in Hong Kong tested positive for COVID-19, and both dogs lived in homes with COVID-19 positive owners. Local health officials characterize the cases of the two dogs in Hong Kong as “likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission,” and neither dog showed any signs of illness from the virus.
Hong Kong health officials have continued to test dogs and cats owned by people infected with the coronavirus. Officials there have stated that cases of infection in dogs appear to be infrequent. As of March 25, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department “conducted tests on 17 dogs and eight cats from households with confirmed COVID-19 cases or persons in close contact with confirmed patients, and only two dogs had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.”
Hong Kong officials stress that “these findings indicate that dogs and cats are not infected easily with this virus, and there is no evidence that they play a role in the spread of the virus.”
In November 2021, the U.K. reported its first case of COVID in a dog, however, there is still no evidence dogs can pass the virus to humans.
Can Other Animals Contract COVID-19?
Two pet cats in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus. One cat displayed mild respiratory symptoms, and lived with an owner who had previously tested positive for COVID-19. The other cat also showed mild respiratory signs, and according to the CDC, “no individuals in the household were confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. The virus may have been transmitted to this cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home.” Globally, two pet cats, one in Hong Kong and one in Belgium, tested positive for COVID-19. Both of these cats lived in homes with COVID-19 positive owners.
A four-year-old female Malayan tiger named Nadia at New York’s Bronx Zoo was the first known case of COVID-19 in an animal in the United States. A total of eight big cats are confirmed by the Wildlife Conservation Society that operates the Bronx Zoo to have been infected with the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. “All eight cats continue to do well. They are behaving normally, eating well, and their coughing is greatly reduced,” according to WCS. Nadia was tested under anesthesia in order to obtain nose, throat, and respiratory tract samples. The other cats were tested through fecal samples.
All of these big cats are believed to have been infected by a zoo staff person who was not showing symptoms of COVID-19, or before that person developed symptoms. Dr. Jane Rooney, a veterinarian and USDA official, tells the Associated Press, “There doesn’t appear to be, at this time, any evidence that suggests that the animals can spread the virus to people or that they can be a source of infection in the United States.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association also reports on preliminary results of “experimental infection” of domestic cats, ferrets, hamsters, and dogs in China, but cautions that these results don’t represent real-world circumstances and should not be overly interpreted.
Can Dogs Spread COVID-19?
The World Health Organization states, “There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly.” Covering your face with a face mask can also help reduce the possibility of spreading droplets.
The CDC says that “while this virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person-to-person.” Because of this type of spread, “there is no reason to think that any animals or pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this novel coronavirus.”
In households where a person has tested positive for the virus, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with pets and other animals.
How Can Dog Owners Protect Dogs From COVID-19?
Healthy pet owners in the U.S. should follow basic hygienic precautions such as washing their hands with soap and water before and after contact with any animal, including dogs and cats. If you test positive for COVID-19 or believe you have been exposed to the virus, the CDC has provided guidelines for pet care:
- When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick
- Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding
- If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after you interact with them
To help reduce the spread of all germs, you may also consider wiping your pet’s fur and feet when they come in and out of the house with antibacterial pet wipes or keeping a microfiber mat by the door. Dogs do not need a face mask to protect against COVID-19.
And the most important protection of all for your dog is this: Under no circumstances should owners abandon their dogs, cats, or other pets because of COVID-19 fears.
Is It Safe to Pet My Dog?
According to the AVMA, petting a dog’s fur is a low risk. The AVMA’s Chief Veterinary Officer Gail Golab says, “We’re not overly concerned about people contracting COVID-19 through contact with dogs and cats.” And there’s science behind that: “The virus survives best on smooth surfaces, such as countertops and doorknobs,” Golab says. “Porous materials, such as pet fur, tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract them through touch.”
Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC, urges common-sense best practices when it comes to our pets: “If you have children, you wouldn’t have them touch a puppy and put their fingers in their mouth, because they can have fecal contamination,” he says. “The general practice of washing our hands after touching a puppy or a dog—that’s normal hygiene.”
Additionally, the CDC has provided guidelines on interactions with pets (your own and those belonging to other people) during the pandemic:
- Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household
- Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people
Can I Walk My Dog?
The CDC’s guidelines also include recommendations for walking your dog:
- Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least six feet from other people and animals
- Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather
Physical and mental exercise are extremely important for dogs and dog owners alike. Before taking a walk, check your local regulations and abide by any stay-home orders. If your area allows it, dog owners who feel healthy and well should plan to continue walking their dogs daily, albeit in accordance with CDC guidelines for maintaining social distancing and wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth. Observe any local ordinances concerning curfews, even if that means adjusting your dog walking schedule.
Practice social distancing measures by walking your dog in uncrowded areas, and maintaining a minimum of six feet between other people and other animals. Fortunately, the average leash is six feet long, so you’ve got a built-in measure to help you stay a safe distance from others. Don’t allow anyone to pet or touch your dog while you’re out on your walk.
If you live in a large city or heavily populated area, opt to take your dog down less-heavily-trafficked blocks, or try adjusting walks to less busy times of day and night. Even if dog parks in your area remain open to the public, the CDC’s revised guidelines recommend avoiding them.
Owners should always wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds before and after each walk. Consider carrying around a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer or wipes during your walks. You can also order rapid COVID-19 tests online and take them at home.
Should my dog be tested for coronavirus?
You do not need to have your dog tested for COVID-19. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “at this time, routine testing of animals is not recommended. Should other animals be confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, USDA will post the findings.” Any tests done on animals do not reduce the availability of testing for people.
If you are still concerned or notice a change in your dog’s or cat’s health, speak to your veterinarian so he or she can advise you.