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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 become ill after infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and some species are more at risk than others of catching the virus. Both human-to-animal and animal-to-human transmission are possible.

Since testing is mainly reserved for humans, we currently have little data on cases of natural transmission of the disease COVID-19 to pets. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has been detected in a small number of cats and dogs whose owners were sick with the diseaseCOVID-19, as well as in several tigers at a New York zoo, some with respiratory difficulties. Human-animal transmission is therefore possible but appears to be uncommon.

In addition, sick animals can transmit the coronavirus to other animals and humans. A case of animal-to-human transmission has been described in 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 infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 while others can be infected. For the risk of infection by species, see Coronaviruses and animals: what are the risks of contamination and transmission according COVID-19 to species?.

Domestic animals 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 preferable to pay particular attention to barrier gestures and hygiene with the pet, just as with humans.


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Sources

Article of December 2019 providing an update on SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and pets. Worldwide, only two dogs and two cats have tested positive for the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Only one of the cats showed respiratory symptoms. Given the small number of cases observed, it is possible that the sick cat was sick for some other reason. IDEXX Laboratories have performed more than 4000 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 zoo in New York City, five tigers and three lions tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. These animals were infected by a zoo staff member COVID-19 who was asymptomatic.

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 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 COVID-19 outbreaks quarantined in Hong Kong, only one tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. 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

Mink in 11 farms in the Netherlands were found to carry the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The minks showed respiratory and gastrointestinal signs, and the number of deaths in the minks increased. As some workers on these farms were showing symptoms a COVID-19 few days earlier, it is likely that farm workers were responsible for the mink infections. The coronavirus then spread within the farmed mink and one employee probably contracted it COVID-19 from the mink. Some cats in the surrounding area also developed antibodies to the coronavirus, suggesting that they were infected by the mink.

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.

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was inoculated into the noses of 6 ferrets, 7 cats and 5 dogs. The ferrets, cats, and 2 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 according COVID-19 to species?

Can a person without symptoms infect others?