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Can my pet catch COVID-19 and pass it on to me?

Text updated on 2020-08-04


Some pets can get sick from a SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection, and some species are more at risk than others of catching the virus. Both human-to-animal and animal-to-human transmission are possible.

Because testing is primarily for humans, there is currently little data on natural transmission of COVID-19 to pets. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was detected in a small number of cats and dogs whose owners were sick with COVID-19 as well as several tigers at a New York zoo, some with respiratory difficulties. Human-animal transmission is therefore possible but seems uncommon.

In addition, sick animals can transmit the coronavirus to other animals and humans. A case of animal-to-human transmission has been described on a mink farm in the Netherlands. However, the risk of animal-to-human transmission appears to be very low. Laboratory experiments have shown that some animal species are resistant to SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection while others can be infected. To find out the risk of infection according to species, see Coronaviruses and animals: what are the risks of contamination and transmission of COVID-19 depending on the species?.

Pets could also transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus not by being sick, but indirectly by carrying the virus on their legs or body surface. Since it is impossible to prevent pets from touching potentially contaminated surfaces, or to continuously wash and disinfect them, certain precautions can be taken to limit this risk:

If no one is ill or at risk in your home, you can continue to live normally with your pet, i.e., with the usual barrier gestures, and hygiene. If there is a vulnerable person living in your home, it is important to pay particular attention to barrier gestures and hygiene with the pet, just as with humans.


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Sources

December 2019 article on SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and pets. Worldwide, only two dogs and two cats have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Only one of the cats showed respiratory symptoms. Given the small number of cases observed, it is possible that the sick cat was ill for some other reason. IDEXX Laboratories have performed more than 4,000 tests on horses, dogs and cats in South Korea and the U.S. without detecting a single positive animal.

Parry, N. M. (2020). COVID-19 and Pets: When Pandemic Meets Panic. Forensic Science International: Reports, 100090.

At a New York zoo, five tigers and three lions tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. These animals were infected by an asymptomatic zoo staff member who was infected with COVID-19.

WCS website (last access 29 April 2020).

In Wuhan, antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus were found in the blood of 15 out of 102 cats, indicating that these cats had been infected with the virus SARS-CoV-2 and had developed an immune response.

Zhang, Q., Zhang, H., Huang, K., Yang, Y., Hui, X., Gao, J., ... & Peng, C. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing serum antibodies in cats: a serological investigation. BioRxiv.

Out of 17 cats from confirmed outbreaks COVID-19 and quarantined in Hong Kong, only one tested positive for coronavirusSARS-CoV-2. In addition, one cat (whose owner was also infected with COVID-19) tested positive in Belgium, as well as two cats in France, one cat in Germany, one cat in Spain, and two cats in New York. No cat-to-human contamination was detected.

Hosie M.J., Hartmann K., Hofmann-Lehmann R., Addie D.D., Truyen U., Egberink H., Tasker S., Frymus T., Pennisi M.G., Möstl K. et al. (2020) SARS-Coronavirus (CoV)-2 and cats. European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases. edited 24 June 2020

Minks on eleven farms in the Netherlands were found to carry the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The minks showed respiratory and gastrointestinal signs, and the number of deaths in these minks increased. Since some workers on these farms showed symptoms of COVID-19 a few days earlier, it is likely that farm workers were the source of the mink infections. The coronavirus then spread within the farmed mink and an employee likely contracted the COVID-19 through the minks. Some cats in the surrounding area have also developed antibodies against the coronavirus, suggesting that they have been contaminated by these minks.

Oreshkova, N., Molenaar, R. J., Vreman, S., Harders, F., Munnink, B. B. O., Hakze-van der Honing, R. W., ... & Tacken, M. G. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 Infection in farmed minks, the Netherlands, April and May 2020. Eurosurveillance, 25(23), 2001005.

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was inoculated into the noses of 6 ferrets, 7 cats, and 5 dogs. The ferrets, cats, and two of the 5 dogs were contaminated and the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was found in their feces or by rectal swabbing.

Shi, J., Wen, Z., Zhong, G., Yang, H., Wang, C., Huang, B., ... & Zhao, Y. (2020). Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS-coronavirus 2. Science, 368(6494), 1016-1020.

Further reading

Can my pet catch COVID-19 and pass it on to me?

Coronaviruses and animals: what are the risks of contamination and transmission COVID-19 with respect to species?

Can a person without symptoms infect others?