This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest news and science around coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
According to WHO, as of March 18, the coronavirus has killed over 7,800 people, and infected more than 191,000 people around the world. The virus has quite similar symptoms to the seasonal flu, including a fever and a cough, but is different in that it can also cause shortness of breath. Reading about the coronavirus can be scary, and it’s easy to understand why people are so concerned for their health. With that said, though, there are plenty of things you don’t have to worry about, when it comes to the virus — and a fear of your pet getting this coronavirus is one of them.
Different Coronavirus Strains Affect Different Pets
The claim that household pets can spread this specific type of coronavirus, whether in the United States or in China, is a myth. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus."
This might sound counterintuitive, considering researchers believe coronavirus could’ve originated in bats, though this hasn’t been confirmed. Dr. Niels Pedersen, Ph.D., a professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the U.C. Davis Veterinary Medicine School, tells Bustle that most species that humans come in close contact with have some type of coronavirus. "The feline and dog coronaviruses, which people are most interested in, do not infect humans and vice versa," he says.
Humans have their own genetically distinct types of coronaviruses and while cross species transfer does happen, it only occurs after significant mutation and over "many years, centuries and millennia," according to Pedersen.
He says it’s possible that this particular coronavirus mutated and moved from bats to anteaters, where it mutated again and infected humans. That being said, there’s been dispute over the anteater theory and more research needs to be done. Regardless, Pedersen explains, "Once in humans, the virus seems to have mutated even further and became fully adapted to growth in humans."
Can Dogs Test Positive For Coronavirus?
A recent report showed that a dog in Hong Kong tested "weakly positive" for the same coronavirus that has been infecting humans across the world. According to the South China Morning Post, the 17-year-old Pomeranian was quarantined in a government facility beginning February 26. Blood tests conducted on March 12 and 13 returned negative for the virus, and the dog was returned to its owner on March 14. The owner, who has since recovered from COVID-19, said that the dog passed away on March 16 but would not allow an autopsy, so its cause of death is unclear. Three other animals were placed under suspected quarantine in Hong Kong, but have tested negative for the virus.
CNN explains that dogs, cats, and other pets can "carry" a virus the same way a virus can live on a doorknob or office counter. However, as the Hong Kong SPCA said in a statement to CNN, this isn’t the same as "being infectious and capable of spreading the COVID-19 virus." In other words, a dog can test positive for coronavirus but cannot be infected or become sick from it.
"There is no research to support human to animal spread at this time," Dr. Shelley Rankin, Ph.D., a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia, told Science Magazine on March 12. "Samples from the Hong Kong dog had a small number of virus particles present." Right now, she said more research needs to be done to understand exactly what happened.
Dogs, especially puppies, are susceptible to a different strain of the virus, known as canine coronavirus disease (CCoV). According to the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), CCoV causes gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and does not affect humans. Regardless, WHO suggests you always wash your hands with soap and water after touching your pet to prevent the passage of common bacteria.
Can Cats Get Coronavirus?
There are no reports yet of any cats testing positive for the human coronavirus. Though feline coronavirus is a common viral infection for cats, it’s a totally separate strain unrelated to the one humans are catching. One of the most common symptoms of feline coronavirus is diarrhea, according to Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine. This type of coronavirus is "widespread" in cats, according to one 2003 study, and, like the human coronavirus, can often be asymptomatic for some cats.
Should You Quarantine Your Pet?
The only time you should consider quarantining your pet is if it lives in a household where someone has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Urban dog owners under quarantine conditions will have to make adjustments to their dog’s routine, including daily walks and doing their business. Ettel Edshteyn, a certified trainer at Karen Pryor Academy and owner of Poodles to Pit Bulls Clicker Training in New York City, told the New York Times to prep your dog to do their business indoors how “you would normally for a walk” by grabbing their leash, bags and treats. You can invest in training pads, but newspapers or fake grass also work for designating a potty area in your home.
Is There A Coronavirus Vaccine For Pets?
There’s no COVID-19 vaccine for pets, and according to Dr. Rankin, there likely won’t be one in the immediate future, either. "That’s [not] everybody’s top priority right now," she told Science Magazine. "It should be discussed, however, if we start seeing more cases like the Hong Kong Pomeranian."
How To Protect Your Pet From Coronavirus
Given that the dog that tested weakly positive for coronavirus is believed to have gotten the virus from a human, the best thing you can do for your pet is practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently. Though again, keep in mind that your pet can only carry the coronavirus — they cannot get sick from it.
To Science Magazine, Dr. Rankin talked about the other ways people can care for their pets during the coronavirus outbreak. "If you get sick and are quarantined, you should make sure you have extra pet food on hand," she said. "And you should make your neighbors aware of any feeding, walking, or medications that your pets need in case you can’t make it back home." She suggested anyone with a pet get prepared as soon as possible.
At the end of the day, taking all the necessary precautions to ensure you stay healthy is the best thing you can do for your pet. After all, you can only take care of your favorite fluffy friend if you first take care of yourself. You can also stay up to date on the latest news around the coronavirus by following the social media accounts of organizations like the WHO and CDC.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.
Dr. Niels Pedersen, Ph.D., professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Olivia Bowman contributed to this report.
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