Last update April 20, 2020
With the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic, there are legitimate questions about how dangerous the virus is for our pets.
This very complete article includes all the latest measures taken, on what to do and what not to do as well as the legitimate questions of all owners on the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Review of cases recorded in domestic animals
While a 17-year-old dog from Hong-Kong (who died on March 16 without an autopsy, probably of old age), living with an infected person by COVID-19, was weakly tested with coronavirus COVID-19 end of February 2020, concerns have grown for homeowners.
Some images from Chinese social networks have shown unsustainable scenes of dog and cat eradication, for fear of spreading the virus.
On March 18, another dog tested positive for COVID-19 by rt-PCR, still in Hong Kong.
On March 27, it was announced that the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Liège was able to demonstrate thata cat belonging to a person infected with COVID-19 could have caught the disease. He developed symptoms compatible with an infection. This type of transmission, from humans to animals (and not vice versa), required a close contact daily.
In these 3 cases, it could not be shown with certainty that these animals were infected with COVID-19. In fact, the dogs did not show symptoms suggestive of the disease, and these three animals do not show seroconversion, ie an increase in antibodies over time, indicating that their immune system has been in contact with a replicating virus.
For the time being, these 3 cases indicate simple contamination, not infection. For the cat, the symptoms presented may be linked to other diseases, which have not been excluded from the clinical picture.
These isolated cases do not therefore prove that pets can be infected by their owner, and the risk of human-to-animal contagion therefore remains negligible to date.
Experimentally, under very specific laboratory conditions, ferrets from cats and dogs could have been infected with COVID-19. Ferrets and cats seem more receptive than dogs to the risk of infection. However, there is currently no indication that they can in turn infect humans.
Should we worry?
There is currently no reason to believe that animals can be vectors of the epidemic or play a role in infecting humans.
The steps at this point are simple:
- if you are not infected with COVID-19, there is no need to panic
- if you are infected with COVID-19, apply a quarantine
Experts in infectious diseases and many international and national human and animal health organizations unanimously agree that there is NO EVIDENCE at this stage indicating that pets can transmit COVID-19 to other animals, including humans.
Pets do not play a role in transmission.
What is coronavirus in dogs or cats?
You should know that there is no coronavirus, but coronaviruses, each adapted to a particular host (man, dog, cat, etc.).
This widespread RNA (ribonucleic acid) enveloped virus affects wild, domestic mammals and birds. Wild animals are an important reservoir of the virus and in certain circumstances (mutations, close contacts), the coronavirus can jump the species barrier and touch humans.
As part of the last two coronavirus epidemics, SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012, the main reservoir, i.e. the animal species that naturally harbors the virus, was the bat, while the intermediate host that allowed transmission to humans was the palm civet and dromedary.
When it jumps the species barrier and it has the capacity to spread from one man to another, the virus can be responsible for an epidemic, depending on its contagiousness, and the severity of the symptoms that he provokes.
Some coronaviruses are specific to dogs, and are at the origin of digestive disorders, others are cat specific and responsible for minor digestive disorders but also have the capacity to mutate into coronavirus responsible for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. These two coronaviruses are not transmissible to humans.
Should you be afraid of the COVID-19 coronavirus for dogs or cats?
In the specific case of COVID-19 coronavirus, there is currently no formal evidence that the virus is transmissible to pets under natural conditions.
The samples taken from the asymptomatic Hong Kong dog are weakly positive and are a priori indicative of a simple carrying of the virus, by close contact with its owner, just like the virus can be found on surfaces that have been contaminated by the patient's hands. The dog is not sick, the virus does not develop there.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the precaution of washing your hands regularly after touching a pet is recommended, to guard against E-coli or salmonella contamination, especially in raw-fed animals, which are much more common than the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.
Transmission of viruses from humans to dogs or from dogs to humans is extremely rare: transmissions of parasites or bacteria are possible, but with the exception of rabies, it has not yet been demonstrated that a virus is transmitted between humans and dogs.
Should you buy a protective mask for your dog?
Currently there are no proof that dogs can be infected with COVID-19. In addition, it is unlikely that a properly fitted and protective mask will be supported by your dog. Finally, the mask will not protect against surface contamination.
Buying or wearing a dog mask is therefore not recommended.
Should your dog or cat be quarantined?
In the case of the Hong Kong dog, quarantining for 14 days is a very good precaution.
Isolation of this dog, out of COVID-19 range, allowed not to continue to passively contaminate it. Ce dog was not infected with COVID-19, but simply ingested or sniffed droplets loaded with virus rejected during coughing, sneezing and contact with the hands of its owner infected with the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that dogs cannot contract COVID-19 and that those in quarantine have been released.
If you were to be COVID-19 infected yourself, this isolation precaution may be necessary for your pet to limit passive contamination.
If your cat goes out unattended, you can restrict its outputs, or monitor them. The same is true for dogs. If the animal's exits are controlled by its owner, by reducing contact and in particular by applying the rules of social distance imposed by keeping 1 meter away, there is no reason for your animal to come into contact with humans suffering from the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The problem with an epidemic is that many people are vectors without knowing it, because they have few or no symptoms. It is possible to isolate your animal from humans, while ensuring his well-being and health on a daily basis, allowing him to spend and socialize in the best possible conditions.
If you are concerned about the health of your pet, contact your veterinary clinic which remains open for emergencies, after telephone call, during confinement.
What are the recommendations to fight coronavirus for your dog or cat?
To protect you from respiratory infections and protect your family and pet, here is a list of simple recommendations:
- wash your hands regularly with soap or disinfect them with a hydroalcoholic gel
- avoid touching eyes, nose, mouth and face
- avoid close contact with sick people
- stay home if you are sick
- cough in a disposable tissue or in his elbow and dispose of the tissue immediately
- regularly clean and disinfect surfaces and objects you touch
- if you get sick, wear a mask to prevent the spread of the virus, limit contact with other humans and your pet, and follow the instructions of your doctor and veterinarian
- Wash your hands before and after petting your pet
- Don't get your face licked
- Avoid contact with your pet if you have COVID-19
Although dogs and cats do not appear to be able to catch COVID-19 coronavirus themselves, they can live with masters with COVID-19 and harbor droplets in their coats.
These microdrops, from sneezing and coughing in humans, can last for several hours in the animal's coat. It is therefore advisable to wash your hands well before and after contact with your animal.
Can we test the pets of people infected with COVID-19?
No test is currently available on the market to know if an animal is affected by COVID-19. Only humans under certain conditions can be tested.
Should my dog's equipment be disinfected against the COVID-19 coronavirus (collar, leash, etc.)?
Even if your dog does not spread the virus, the coronavirus can survive on multiple surfaces for a few hours. It is strongly advised, as much as possible, to disinfect your dog's equipment such as leash handle, carabiner and other accessories after each outing.
How do I properly clean my dog's paws after returning from a walk?
You can clean your dog's pads with a wet absorbent paper or a suitable wipe cleaning the dog's paws.
It is especially important not to wash the dog's paws with hydroalcoholic gel, products containing bleach or wipes intended for the maintenance of the house. We currently find dogs with burned legs.
Can I walk my dog or go to the vet during the total containment set up to fight against the coronavirus?
Your dog can get some fresh air. The Government authorizes outings to walk your dog normally around your home, especially if you do not have a garden. It is also possible to consult your veterinarian under conditions during exceptional confinement. The objective is not to regroup.
Systematically, we must be careful not to pet the dogs crossed on the street. Coronavirus can be deposited on a collar or a leash and thus contaminate the owner or the entourage of the dog.
Do not abandon your pet under the pretext of the coronavirus!
SPA shelters, forced to close to the public for health reasons and who fear a large wave of abandonments, are appeal to the responsibility of all pet owners so as not to give in to psychosis and the temptation to abandon your pet.
Is the COVID-19 coronavirus dangerous for dogs or cats?
Currently, no proof of transmission COVID-19 coronavirus from humans to dogs or cats has not been proven. For the moment, the rare cases of supposed transmission from humans to animals are anecdotal, and require further investigation.
For the dogs and cat in question, the presence of viral particles has simply been demonstrated. These viral particles found in the nostrils of the animal, on the legs or in their digestive tract, just testify to the lifestyle of the animals (sniffing, licking of the coat or soil and ingestion of viral particles, etc.) but do not show that the virus could have multiplied in their organism.
We must insist and transmit this message: there is “NO EVIDENCE” that pets and farm animals can transmit the COVID-19 coronavirus, just as it is "unlikely" that the virus will pass from human to animal, as indicated by ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety). We encourage you to transmit this reassuring message and relay it to those around you and on social networks.
It is collectively necessary to keep calm and reassure all naturally worried dog and cat owners.
There is no more no reason to panic if you see a dog or a cat.
By Benjamin BAYON, Veterinary Doctor
NB: for reasons of simplification, the coronavirus disease COVID-19, and the virus responsible for the disease, namely SARS-CoV-2, are both called COVID-19 in this article.
This article will be updated in real time according to the evolution of medical and veterinary studies and information that will arrive.