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Do domestic animals spread novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

There is no evidence that domestic animals can transmit the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) to people or that they are involved in the spread of COVID-19.

SARS-Cov-2 in people and domestic animals

The current spread of the disease called COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission of a novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 [12].

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 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 [2]. 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) [2].

It appears that it is rare for domestic animals to become become ill from the virus if they are infected and this has been mild illness only and, crucially, there is no evidence that domestic animals can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people or that they are involved in the spread of COVID-19.

There are no reported instances of transmission of coronavirus from pets to people and more research is needed in this area [7]. However, it is theoretically possible that the virus could be passed from person to person via a surface such as a dog or cat’s hair/fur, collar or lead (just as it could via the contaminated hand or clothing of a person). It seems that there is a very low risk of this occurring, as the virus does not seem to survive well on porous materials like hair/fur; so enough virus is not likely to remain on the hair/fur long enough to transmit infection and good hygiene such as hand washing will reduce the risk even further. Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution with this emerging disease, we recommend some precautions to keep people, pets and the community safe [8].

There is some evidence that cats and dogs are vulnerable to being infected with SARS-CoV-2 from close contact with infected people, although this does not seem common. The precautionary steps advised will also help to protect our pets [8].

Precautions

  • 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 others, 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.
  • Socially distance your pet(s) in the same way you are socially distancing yourself from other people. Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household. This will minimise the risk to them and the potential to bring the virus into your household.
  • Animal owners without symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to practice good hygiene during interactions with animals. This includes washing hands before and after such interactions and when handling animal food, waste, or supplies.
  • If you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, you should eliminate or limit your contact with other people and animals. Someone else should care for any animals, including pets. You can find more information here.
  • If your pet has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, you should keep them in the house with you.
  • If your pet has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and is sick, call your veterinarian for advice; do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic unless your veterinarian has advised you to and can take precautions.
  • If it is necessary for a pet who has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 to leave their house (e.g. to go to a veterinary clinic for medical care or because their owner is too sick to care for them or has to go into hospital), it is important that precautions are taken to reduce the risk of exposing other people or animals to the virus.
  • When walking your dog, maintain social distancing at all times and avoid other people, dogs and shared spaces as much as possible. Follow guidelines on minimising your exposure when outside (e.g. avoid touching surfaces, stay at least 1.5m away from other people and dogs, and wash your hands well with soap and water immediately when you return to the house) and leave your shoes at the front door to minimise any particles from outside being brought into the house. For the same reason, it may be helpful to wash your dog’s paws with dog shampoo and water when you bring them back inside.

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.

Summary

There are now many millions of cases globally of COVID-19 and, despite this, there have only been a small number of confirmed cases of pets, and captive or farmed wild animals testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. In all cases, it is thought that the source of the infection for these animals was one or more persons with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Just a very small number of infected animals have shown some mild signs of illness.

There is no evidence of companion animals, livestock or wildlife in Australia being infected or becoming ill with SARS-CoV-2.

There is evidence that cats are susceptible to being infected with SARS-CoV-2, seemingly from close contact with people who are infected and shedding the virus, although this does not seem common. They also seem to sometimes show mild symptoms associated with the viral infection.

Ferrets and Syrian hamsters also seem susceptible to being infected with SARS-CoV-2 and, to a lesser degree, dogs.

There is no evidence of any cat, ferret, hamster, dog or other domestic animal transmitting the virus to humans, or that they play any role in the spread of the virus.

Since there is some evidence of cats and dogs becoming infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus from humans who have COVID-19, we need to take some precautionary steps to protect our pets.

How can I ensure my animal’s welfare during the COVID-19 restrictions?

There are five 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.

  1. You are practising social distancing
  2. You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection
  3. You or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19
  4. You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19
  5. Can I leave my home to care for animals during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you are facing challenges caring for your animals, please get in touch with your local RSPCA to discuss options; we are here to offer support and help if possible.

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.

References

[1] World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (2020) Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

[2] World Health Organisation (WHO) (2020) Coronavirus.

[3] World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (2020) Information for veterinarians on the novel coronavirus.

[4] Australian Veterinary Association (2020) COVID-19 and pets: Update from the AVA President.

[5] Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2020) Novel Coronavirus and Animals.

[6] Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) (2020) COVID-19 Information Sheet.

[7] Systematic Reviews for Animals & Food (SYREAF) (2020) COVID-19 and Animals

[8] World Health Organisation (WHO) (2020) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – If You Have Animals.

Also Read

Updated on July 31, 2020
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https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/do-domestic-animals-spread-novel-coronavirus-disease-covid-19/

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