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Can pets spread COVID-19 from one person to another?

By Sarah Wallace DVM
published: March 30, 2020 • 5 min. read
woman walking dog

Let me start by being very clear – your pets will not give you COVID-19. Do not surrender your pets to animal shelters out of fear. In this article, we will discuss the role of pets in the family structure, how to keep yourself and your community safe with pet-related activities, and the characteristics of coronaviruses, specifically COVID-19.

Preventing Spread with Pet-Related Activities

If you are not currently infected with COVID-19, the chance that your pet has infectious virus on them is very unlikely. If you are infected with COVID-19, it’s still very unlikely that your pets have infectious particles on them. The small chance that lives between “very unlikely” and “impossible” is the reason we are providing the following suggestions.

Social distancing means avoiding other peoples’ pets (and keeping your pets from them) for now. Here are various pet-related activities to take into consideration.

Dog Walking

Theoretically, if your neighbor were to pass you during your walk and pet your dog, they may come into contact with the collar, harness, leash or poop-bag dispenser. If that neighbor is infected with COVID-19 and shedding virus, those virus particles could end up on your dog’s walking accessories.

To be as safe as possible, consider keeping your dog away from other humans during this time, to prevent the unlikely spread through such contact. If a neighbor comes into contact with your pet during a walk, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after returning home and removing their outdoor walking gear. If COVID-19 can survive on these dog walk accessories, we currently have no idea how long. Also, many collars, harnesses and leashes are made of fabric that isn’t easily disinfected. You can try to wipe those items down with a disinfecting wipe, but your best bet is to create a post-walk hand washing routine to keep yourself safe.

On the flip side, if you are taking a walk and cross paths with your neighbor walking their dog, similar rules apply. For the time being, out of an abundance of caution, refrain from interacting with your neighbor’s dog. When you get home, wash your hands.

Doggie Daycare and Dog Parks

Because of the low likelihood that pets can carry the virus on them, doggie daycare, especially the ones that offer “curb-side” drop off and pick up should not be a huge concern. If you do have to enter the doggie daycare facility, be mindful of appropriate social distancing, disinfect your hands once you get back in your car, and wash your hands as soon as you arrive at your next destination.

When considering a visit to the dog park, first decide if you can engage in a different activity such as jogging with your dog. Jogging would help you maintain social distancing, exercise your pet, take your stress down a notch, and not be exposed to fences, latches, gates and other communal touch surfaces at dog parks.

If you decide on the dog park, do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth until you have washed your hands thoroughly. I’d be more worried about the surfaces other humans have touched than the dogs themselves. While your dog plays, be on the lookout for any other pet parents who are coughing – if you notice anyone with questionable signs of COVID-19, it might be a good idea to try another park.

Dog Bathing

If you are worried that your pet has been in contact with someone positive for COVID-19, you can ease your mind by giving your dog a regular bath. By “regular” I mean using the normal doggie shampoo that you always use. Lather and rinse.

Do not under any circumstances use Clorox, Lysol, bleach or any other cleaning product on your pet’s fur, skin, and especially not around their mouth, nose or eyes. These products can cause irritation, ulcers, intestinal upset and can make your pet very sick. If you have already used these products on your pet and are only reading this article now, rinse the cleaning products of your pet immediately, then call your veterinarian or one of the telehealth service providers listed here.

Outdoor Cats

Like dogs, cats have a very low chance of being fomites (learn more about fomites below) for COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution, keep felines indoors at all times during the pandemic to minimize your cat’s neighborhood door-to-door visitations/food solicitations. If against all odds your cat has virus on them (remember, there have been no cats that have tested positive for COVID-19), we don’t want our neighbors to become infected because we didn’t consider this small detail.


How the Virus Can Spread

Fomites are generally objects or living beings that are not infected by a virus, but have virus on them. Let me give you an example. A human infected with COVID-19 touches the sleeve of your jacket after coughing into their hand. Your jacket will likely have virus particles on it, making it a fomite.

This is the main reason scientists are telling people to wash their hands. If the same infected human were to cough onto their hand and then shake your hand, your hands would likely have virus on them and therefore, a fomite. Your hands having virus on them won’t by itself cause illness, but once your hands touch your eyes, nose or mouth, virus can enter the body leading to COVID-19 infection. Handwashing removes any virus particles that happen to be hanging out on your hands before they can infect your respiratory membranes.

Now imagine the same person, infected with COVID-19 coughs on their hands then touches your dog or cat. In theory, your dog or cat’s coat could potentially become a fomite. This scenario is unlikely, because of the nature of your pet’s fur coat, but your pet’s collar, harness, leash, poop bag dispenser are also items to consider. Any virus would likely be unable to survive very long on these surfaces, but, out of an abundance of caution, it’s best to keep your pet socially distanced from other people during this time.

COVID-19 Fears Resulting in Pet Surrenders

Although tens of thousands of humans in the US have tested positive for COVID-19, no pets in the US have tested positive. Idexx, the largest veterinary diagnostic facility in the US has tested thousands of dogs and cats for COVID-19 and none of them have tested positive.

Confusing are reports of two positive COVID-19 tests in dogs in Hong Kong. These reports have produced significant fear and have led to the mass surrender of pets in many countries. These cases show us nothing more than dogs can have COVID-19 particles in their nasal passages. Neither of these dogs showed clinical signs of actual infection, nor has there been anything to show that these dogs can pass COVID-19 to humans or other pets. Other pets in these households tested negative. At this time, we are unsure of the significance of these cases, but they definitely do not indicate that pets can be sources of infection.

Pets are Family

In the US, 88% of families with pets consider those pets to be family. People feeling the effects of social distancing are turning to their pets for comfort and companionship. Pets are important parts of your family life and can actually help us cope during our social isolation. Your pets need you too! Include your pet in your family plans during this pandemic, don’t leave them behind.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we want you to feel safe keeping your pets home with your family. The COVID-19 mantra of maintain your social distancing from other humans, wash your hands, don’t touch your face are the mainstays of prevention at this time. Washing your hands after you interact with your pet and being mindful of your pet’s daily activities will further ensure your family will remain safe and together during this crisis.

Sarah Wallace DVM profile photo
By Sarah Wallace DVM

Dr. Sarah Wallace is the vice president of telehealth at Galaxy Vets, based in Fort Collins, Colo. She is actively working to increase access to veterinary care, to develop more effective communication strategies to bridge the gap between veterinarian knowledge and pet parent understanding and build happy and sustainable veterinary teams. Dr. Wallace studied biology at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and attended veterinary school at Western University of Health Sciences in California. After graduation, Dr. Wallace started working with Just Food for Dogs, an innovative pet food startup out of southern California advocating fresh, whole-food diets for dogs. She also completed a small animal rotating internship at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists - receiving one-on-one training with San Francisco's top veterinarians in internal medicine, neurology, dermatology, oncology and surgery. After working in clinical practice, Dr. Wallace joined the field of telehealth. Dr. Wallace writes and reviews blog content for Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. Dr. Sarah Wallace on LinkedIn Cardinal Veterinary Works Consulting

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