Many pet owners will agree that their dog or cat is more than just an animal, but a part of their family. So, it’s understandable that you may be worried about how to protect your furry friend during this time of uncertainty relating to COVID-19. Because we are still learning about the virus that causes COVID-19, there has been a lot of speculation about whether pets can contract or pass on the virus, and what can be done to keep them and yourself safe. 

We asked veterinarian and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) president Dr. John Howe to help us set the record straight.

Q: Can my pet contract COVID-19? 

Yes, but it’s very rare. Pet hair is porous, and it tends to trap viruses in it. So, it's very difficult to spread a virus on the hair coat of a dog or a cat, unlike the smooth surface of a doorknob or a countertop. This is why, to date, there have been fewer than 25 reports from around the world of dogs and cats being infected with the novel coronavirus. 

Typically, the pets that have contracted the virus live with owners who are sick, and they accidentally lick contaminated droplets from the ground. Recent lab studies of experimental infection of pets with COVID-19, specifically ferrets, hamsters, and cats show potential for serving as animal models of human infection but dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks do not.

Q: Can my pet pass COVID-19 onto me or my family? 

Infectious disease experts, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), indicate there is currently no evidence to suggest that pets are a source of infection for people. Human outbreaks are driven by person-to-person contact.

Q: Is there anything I can do to prevent my pet from getting COVID-19?

Because people can spread the disease to animals, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands before and after interacting with pets, especially if they are not your own. Additionally, you should always ensure your pet is kept clean and its fur combed to prevent mats. Regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls and bedding material; and remove and replace soiled or damaged toys. 

Since we have no confirmed examples of where viruses have been transmitted by contact with pet hair or skin, it is not recommended to use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide containing cleaning agents, hand sanitizers or sanitizing wipes to clean your pet’s fur or paws. There is no evidence that it is helpful in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and it may be harmful to your pet.

Q: Should my dog or cat wear a mask? Can there be complications from wearing a mask for pets?

Under no circumstances should you put face coverings on pets. Far from offering any sort of protection, covering a pet’s face could cause them harm and be extremely stressful and uncomfortable. 

Dogs, for example, need to breathe much faster than humans, especially with the summer heat. Their sense of smell is very important to them, and a mask would prevent them from picking up on a variety of scents. Masks are different from muzzles, and there aren’t any masks that are appropriate for your dog.

Q: Should my pets be social distancing from each other?

The best advice at this point is to think of your pets as members of your family and practice safety measures similar to what are recommended for people. So, within your household it is OK to be in close proximity unless you are showing signs of illness. The same goes for our pets. And, just as we do with people outside the household, you should limit your pets’ interactions with people outside of the house. Cats should be kept indoors if possible and not allowed to roam freely outside. When out for a walk, keep dogs on a leash and at least 6 feet away from other people and pets.

Q: Can I take my dog to the groomer?

It’s important to groom your dog regularly, whether at home or with a professional, depending on whether your local business has reopened. You don’t want to have multiple people crowded into a waiting room with dogs, so double check what safety precautions your groomer is taking. Grooming is important for your dog to avoid infection and to keep cool during the summer, especially for dogs with long coats. If you want to trim your dog’s nails at home, there are sanding discs available that do a good job. 

Q: How can I tell if my pet has contracted COVID-19? When should I contact a vet?

Limited information is available, because there have been so very few cases of infection in pets and even fewer cases where the pet has become ill from the virus. With that being said, symptoms are similar to those seen in people and include signs of respiratory illness—such as fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, and nasal or eye discharge—or signs of gastrointestinal illness, such as vomiting and diarrhea. The illness has been mild among those few pets that appear to have contracted COVID-19. 

Many other more common diseases and conditions can cause similar signs of illness in pets, so it’s important to explore those more likely causes first. You should contact your veterinarian if your pet is sick to discuss what you are seeing, any possible exposure of that pet to COVID-19, and what are appropriate next steps.

To learn more, visit the CDC’s guidance for pets.

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