There is currently no evidence that companion animals play a role in the spread of the human novel coronavirus disease COVID-19.
It appears that it is very rare for companion animals to become naturally infected with SARS-CoV-2; they are not naturally infected easily with the virus; there is little to no evidence that they become sick from the virus if they are infected; and, crucially, there is still no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people [1–5].
The human-animal bond people share with their companion animals is very important and can provide much needed support, comfort and companionship to people in these difficult times, so if possible people and their companion animals should stay together for the benefit of both.
Information about the COVID-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in people
Transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 primarily occurs through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids (generally saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze). It is also possible for transmission to occur if a person touches a surface or object that has been contaminated with infectious material and then touches their mouth, nose, or possibly eyes . Non-porous (smooth) surfaces (e.g. glass, metal, phones, countertops, door knobs) are more likely to potentially transmit viruses and for longer than porous materials (e.g. paper, money, wood, pet fur, clothing) .
Other (non-COVID-19) coronaviruses in animals
There are many different types of coronavirus. Media articles reporting coronavirus being detected in dogs and cats have generally referred to distinctly different virus types to the one causing the human disease COVID-19 (e.g. canine coronavirus, which can cause mild diarrhoea, and feline coronavirus, which can cause feline infectious peritonitis) . These dog or cat specific versions of the coronavirus are not zoonotic (cannot be transmitted to people) and so pose no risk to humans [1, 3, 5].
Information about the COVID-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and animals
There were recent reports of two dogs in Hong Kong testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus genetic material after the dogs were exposed to people infected with COVID-19 [3, 7]. Neither dog showed any clinical signs consistent with infection. Infectious virus was NOT isolated from either dog.
There has also been a recent report of a pet cat in Belgium testing positive for the virus, after the cat’s owner was infected with COVID-19 [2, 3]. This cat was unwell and had vomiting, diarrhoea, and respiratory signs, but it is not known if this was related to the coronavirus. Another cat tested positive to the virus in Hong Kong, after the owner was diagnosed with COVID-19; the cat has shown no signs of disease .
A large veterinary diagnostics laboratory has evaluated thousands of canine and feline samples in the USA, Canada and the European Union (during the validation of a new veterinary test system for SARS-CoV-2). No positive results were found, even though many samples were tested in areas where many humans were infected .
After human cases of COVID-19 were detected in China, veterinary departments of China have been testing samples of pigs, poultry and dogs and other domestic animals . There have been no positive tests of animals in China reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Recently a Chinese laboratory reported that they were able to experimentally infect some domestic animals with high doses of SARS-CoV-2 given directly into the animals’ respiratory system . The results of this research must be considered with caution as the research has not been peer-reviewed, only small numbers of animals were involved, and the results have not been verified. The results published on the website biorxiv.org indicated that cats and ferrets are susceptible to experimental infection with coronavirus, dogs have a low susceptibility to infection and pigs, chickens and ducks do not seem to be susceptible to infection. The researchers also reported that one cat, who was exposed in an experiment to cats who had been deliberately infected with high doses of the virus, became infected. The researchers suggest that cats may be able to transmit the virus to other cats. There is NO evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people.
There has been some recent research into the use of ferrets as an experimental animal model, with the intention of using this to evaluate treatments and vaccines for the disease in humans . This research has shown that ferrets can be infected experimentally with SARS-CoV-2, can shed virus in body discharges, and that they can transmit the infection to other ferrets. There is no evidence of natural infection of ferrets and no evidence that ferrets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people.
In summary, there have only been three documented cases globally of natural human-to-animal transmission in dogs and cats and one small non-peer reviewed study showing experimental infection in cats, dogs, and ferrets; it appears that it is very rare for companion animals to become naturally infected with SARS-CoV-2; they are not naturally infected easily with the virus; there is little to no evidence that they become sick from the virus if they are infected; and, crucially, there is still no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people [1–5].
There is also no evidence that any other animals (e.g. other companion animals, farm animals or wildlife) are involved in the spread of this virus in Australia .
How can I ensure my pet’s welfare during the COVID-19 restrictions?
There are four possible scenarios you need to prepare for under the current circumstances and you’ll need to consider how to ensure your pet’s welfare in each of these.
- You are practising social distancing
- You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection
- You or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19
- You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19
To protect each other and our communities, please act as if you have the virus and limit your potential to spread it – practice social distancing or self-isolate as appropriate to your situation.
In simple terms, think of the people and animals that you are sharing your home with and who you are in contact with (your family unit or household) as needing to stay isolated within a bubble.
To minimise the risk of transmission of the virus, the members of your household should only have contact with each other. If one of you is exposed in any way, this will result in all of you being exposed. Similarly, if one of you is infected with the virus and interacts with other people, you risk infecting them and, as a result, anyone they have contact with. So, take extra precautions to protect your family unit of people and pets, and the community.
Please note that there are many things that are currently unknown about this virus and the risk it poses to pets and from pets to humans. This information has been prepared with the best and most current information available at the time but things are changing rapidly as the situation evolves. Our information is updated as often as possible.
 World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (2020) Information for veterinarians on the novel coronavirus (accessed on Apr 2, 2020).
 World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (2020) Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) (accessed on Apr 1, 2020).
 Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) (2020) Update on report of transmission from human to pet dog in Hong Kong (accessed on Apr 2, 2020).
 Shi J Wen Z Zhong G et al. (2020) Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and different domestic animals to SARS-coronavirus-2 (accessed on Apr 2, 2020).
 Kim Y-I Kim S-G Kim S-M et al. (2020) Infection and Rapid 1 Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Ferrets – Journal pre-proof. CelPress.