SARS-CoV-2 in animals
Precautions for veterinarians
As veterinarians, we have responsibilities to care for the health and welfare of animals while also mitigating the risk to ourselves, our teams, our clients, and the general public. This includes taking full precautions when examining animals with known or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection. The following items of personal protective equipment are recommended:
- Face shield or goggles
- N95 or higher respirator (preferred) or facemask
- Isolation gown
- Clean, non-sterile gloves
Precautions for pet owners
For pet owners, preparing in advance is key to keeping the whole family safe. The following resources can help pet owners plan for their pet’s care in the event that the owner or the pet is infected with SARS-CoV-2:
- Protect animals by planning for their care
- CDC guidance on what you should know about COVID-19 and pets
- Caring for your pet with SARS-CoV-2 infection
It is important to remember that there is no evidence at this time that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. Pets and people each need the support of the other, and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.
Since the initial outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, there have been numerous reports of animals becoming infected with the virus. There’s still a lot to learn about how SARS-CoV-2 affects different animal species, but the primary domestic animals that have been infected are cats and dogs. Non-domestic animal species have been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection as well. Overall, evidence suggests that infected animals pose little risk to humans, particularly when appropriate personal protective equipment is used.
In the U.S., for any animal that tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a private or state laboratory, USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories performs additional testing to confirm the infection and reports the results online. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) also tracks cases in animal species around the world.
SARS-CoV-2 in pets and other domestic animals
COVID-19 is the disease that people get from being infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (or SARS-CoV-2). Domestic animals do not get COVID-19 like humans do, but under natural conditions, pet cats—and, to a lesser extent, pet dogs—may, although rarely, become infected with SARS-CoV-2 after close and prolonged contact with an infected person. In other words, a person with COVID-19 might transmit the virus that causes this disease to pet cats and dogs (and perhaps pet ferrets and hamsters) in the same way we might transmit it to another person.
Cats and dogs are not easily infected under natural conditions, and there is limited evidence that infected cats or dogs spread the virus to other animals. However, a single case report from Thailand suggests that infected cats could spread the virus to people when inadequate measures are taken to prevent transmission. In that report, a veterinarian was suspected to have been exposed to the virus when a SARS-CoV-2-infected cat sneezed in her face. The veterinarian, although wearing an N95 mask at the time, was not wearing a face shield or protective eye wear.
SARS-CoV-2 in farmed, captive, and free-ranging wildlife species
In 2020, various cases of infections in farmed mink were reported in multiple countries. It’s likely mink were originally infected by farm workers with COVID-19 before transmitting the virus to other mink. Evidence also suggests mink-to-human transmission in rare cases.
In addition, captive big cats (e.g., lions, tigers, pumas, snow leopards) and non-human primates (e.g., western lowland gorillas) from individual zoos or wildlife refuges in the U.S. and other countries have been confirmed infected with SARS-CoV-2. In each case, animals were tested after one or more developed mild to moderate clinical signs of respiratory disease with, in some cases, mild lethargy and loss of appetite. Based on the similarities between the genomic sequences of the virus infecting these big cats and gorillas and those of the virus circulating in nearby human populations, these captive wild animals likely became infected following contact with one or more animal caretakers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. However, subsequent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from the first infected animal to other animals housed together or in close proximity cannot be ruled out. Other captive animal species have also been found to be infected—though less frequently than big cats and non-human primates—likely through contact with infected caretakers.
SARS-CoV-2 infections have also been reported in white-tailed deer, both wild and captive, in the U.S. and Canada. Infection and transmission routes among white-tailed deer are not yet well understood, but there are no reports of clinical illness associated with SARS-CoV-2 in the deer populations surveilled. There is also no evidence that deer transmit the virus to people.
AVMA recommendations regarding SARS-CoV-2 and animals
AVMA maintains its recommendations, which echo those of the CDC, USDA, and OIE, regarding SARS-CoV-2 and animals:
- Animal owners without symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to practice good hygiene during interactions with animals. This includes washing hands before and after such interactions and when handling animal food, waste, or supplies.
- 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.
- Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals. Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
- Those ill with COVID-19 should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. 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, then wear a cloth face covering; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them, and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.
- At this point in time, there is no evidence to suggest that domestic animals, including pets and livestock, that may be incidentally infected by humans play a substantive role in the spread of COVID-19.
- Routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is NOT recommended. Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to rule out other, more common causes of illness in animals before considering testing for SARS-CoV-2.
- Human outbreaks are driven by person-to-person transmission and, based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes, even if COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately.