What veterinarians need to know
Updated as of 6 p.m. on April 5, 2020
Health officials across the U.S. and all over the world are working hard to combat COVID-19. Veterinary professionals are receiving questions from their clients and their teams, and the AVMA is pleased to be able to provide credible information and resources to assist with responses to those questions.
To ensure the resources we provide you are as accurate and up-to-date as possible in this continuously evolving environment, the AVMA is in regular contact with CDC, FDA, and USDA; other state, national, and international veterinary and public health expert groups; and intergovernmental organizations (such as the WHO and OIE) to learn the latest developments and their potential impacts on veterinarians, patients, and clients.
Here’s some key information about COVID-19:
- The betacoronavirus that causes COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2 (formerly 2019-nCoV).
- Person-to-person and community spread has been reported in numerous countries, including the United States.
- Transmission primarily occurs when there is contact with an infected person's bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze. People are thought to be the most contagious when they are most symptomatic. Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; however, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Transmission via touching a contaminated surface or object (i.e., a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly eyes is also possible, but appears to be a secondary route. Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g., paper money, pet fur) because porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch. At this time, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread to people from the skin or fur of pets.
- There are currently no antiviral drugs recommended or licensed by FDA to treat COVID-19, and there is no immunization available.
- Cases of COVID-19 and community spread are being reported in most states. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.
- The best way to avoid becoming ill is to avoid exposure to the virus. Taking typical preventive actions is key.
- While two dogs (Hong Kong) and two cats (one in Belgium and one in Hong Kong) living with people diagnosed with COVID-19 have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, other dogs and cats also living with infected people remain uninfected. New research articles have been posted to open-access sites on an almost daily basis that describe preliminary results suggesting some domestic animals can be experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2 and may transmit the virus to other animals in an experimental setting or mount a viral-specific immune response when exposed to SARS-CoV-2. However, caution should be taken to not overinterpret results described in such articles, some of which may report on data from a very small number of animals or provide only preliminary results, and not extrapolate those results to the potential for SARS-CoV-2 to naturally infect or be transmitted by companion animals kept as pets. To date the CDC has not received any reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States. Infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations continue to agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that, under natural conditions, pets spread COVID-19 to people.
- The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories has also confirmed the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in one tiger at a zoo in New York. This is the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19. Several lions and tigers at the zoo showed clinical signs of respiratory illness and this tiger was tested accordingly. Public health employees believe the large cats became ill after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. All of the large cats are expected to recover. No other animals in other areas of the zoo are exhibiting similar clinical signs. USDA and CDC are monitoring this situation and the OIE will be notified of the finding.
- If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your animals as you normally would, including feeding and otherwise caring for them. You should continue to practice good hygiene during those interactions (e.g., wash hands before and after interacting with your animals, including handling of food, supplies, and waste; keep feed, water, and any supplies used to deliver them clean; remove soiled bedding and replace as appropriate).
- Out of an abundance of caution and until more is known about this virus, if you are ill with COVID-19 you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. When possible, have another member of your household or business take care of feeding and otherwise caring for any animals, including pets. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, wear a cloth facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.
- There have been no reports of pets or livestock becoming ill with COVID-19 in the United States. At this point in time, there is also no evidence that domestic animals, including pets and livestock, can spread COVID-19 to people.
- As always, careful handwashing and other infection control practices can greatly reduce the chance of spreading any disease. The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians’ (NASPHV) compendium of standard precautions is a good reference for appropriate infection control in veterinary practices.