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What information do we have about the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and domestic animals?

It appears that it is rare for domestic animals to become naturally infected with SARS-CoV-2; they are not naturally infected easily with the virus; it is rare for domestic animals to 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 are involved in the spread of COVID-19 [15].

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 over five and a half million 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. It is likely 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 signs of illness and these have generally been mild.

The table below summarises the natural SARS-CoV-2 infections that have been documented in animals:

Number in ArticleEvent Start or Report DateCountry (State)Species (Number)RT-PCR TestVirus IsolationNeutralizing AntibodyPublished on OIE-WAHIS (Dates of Reports)Source of InfectionClinical Signs Shown by Animal?
15May 26, 2020 Russia (Moskva) CAT (1) Positive Not reported Not reported YES (May 26) Unknown Unknown
12May 25, 2020 The Netherlands CAT (4; on same mink farm as** - 7 cats in total)*** Positive (1) Not reported Positive (4) NO; but OIE is aware Human-to-animal (infected farm workers) or mink-to-cat suspected None reported
14May 21, 2020 Spain (La Rioja) CAT (1) PositiveNot reported Not reported NOHuman-to-animal (owner) suspected No
13May 15, 2020 The Netherlands DOG (1) Negative Not reported PositiveNOHuman-to-animal (owner) suspected YES (but not known if related to SARS-CoV-2).

Dog was euthanased.
12May 15, 2020 The Netherlands CATS (3; on a mink farm)** Not reported Not reported Positive (3) NOHuman-to-animal (infected farm workers) or mink-to-cat suspected No
11May 13, 2020 Germany (Upper Palatinate, Bavaria)CAT (1) PositiveNot reported Not reported NO; but OIE is aware Human-to-animal (owner) suspected No
10May 12, 2020 France (Bordeaux) CAT (1) PositiveNot reported Not reported NO; but OIE is aware Human-to-animal (owner) suspected YES (but not known if related to SARS-CoV-2)
6May 8, 2020 The Netherlands (De Mortel & Deurne) MINK (multiple) PositiveNot reported Not reported NOHuman-to-animal (infected farm workers) and mink-to-mink suspected YES
9May 8, 2020Spain (Catalonia) CAT (1) Positive Not reported Not reported NO; but OIE is aware Human-to-animal (owner) suspectedYES (but not thought to be related to SARS-CoV-2). Cat was euthanased due to underlying heart condition.
8May 1, 2020 France (Paris) CAT (1) Positive Not reported Not reported NO; but OIE is aware Human-to-animal (owner) suspected YES (but not known if related to SARS-CoV-2)
7Apr 28, 2020 USA (North Carolina) DOG (1) PositiveNot doneNot doneNOHuman-to-animal (owner) suspected YES (but not known if related to SARS-CoV-2)
6Apr 26, 2020 and Apr 23, 2020 The Netherlands (Gemert-Bakel & Laarbeek – May 26)

(Milheeze May 23, 2020)
MINK (multiple)PositiveNot reported Not reported NO; but OIE is aware Human-to-animal (infected farm workers) and mink-to-mink suspected YES
5March 23, 2020 USA (New York) CATS (2) PositiveNot reported PositiveYES (Apr 22 & 29) Human-to-animal suspected (owner for one cat, other unknown) NO
4Mar 30, 2020 Hong Kong CAT (1)PositiveNegativePositiveYES (Apr 3, May 4) Human-to-animal (owner) suspected NO
3Mar 27, 2020 USA (New York/Bronx Zoo) TIGERS/LIONS (7)* Positive Not done Not done NOHuman-to-animal (zoo-worker) suspected YES
3Mar 27, 2020 USA (New York/Bronx Zoo) LION (1) PositiveNot reported Not reported YES (Apr 17) Human-to-animal (zoo-worker) suspected YES
3Mar 27, 2020 USA (New York/Bronx Zoo) TIGER (1) PositiveNot reported Not reported YES (Apr 6)Human-to-animal (zoo-worker) suspected YES
2Mar 18, 2020 BelgiumCAT (1)Positive

(unconfirmed as samples from environment & collected by owner)
Not reported Not reported NO; but OIE is aware Human-to-animal (owner) suspected YES (but not known if related to SARS-CoV-2)
1Mar 18, 2020 Hong Kong DOG (1) PositivePositivePositiveYES (Mar 20 & Apr 7) Human-to-animal (owner) suspected NO
1Feb 27, 2020Hong Kong DOG (1) PositiveNegativePositiveYES (Feb 29, Mar 7, 16, & 28)Human-to-animal (owner) suspected YES (but not thought to be related to SARS-CoV-2). Dog was euthanased due to underlying health conditions.

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. Cats also seem to sometimes show mild symptoms associated with the viral infection.

Mink, ferrets and Syrian hamsters are also 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. It is possible that mink may have transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to a couple of humans in the Netherlands on mink farms but this has yet to be confirmed.

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

Advice

In order to protect yourself, your animals and other people [6], our advice is to:

  • 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.
  • Minimise contact with people and animals outside of your family unit or household to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus. 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 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.

Information about the novel coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) in people

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 [3, 7].

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 [7]. 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) [7].

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) [5]. 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].

Specific information from reports and studies about SARS-CoV-2 and animals

Natural infections in domestic and captive or farmed wild animals

1 Dogs and cats in Hong Kong

There were reports from February to April 2020 of two dogs in Hong Kong testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus after the dogs were exposed to people infected with COVID-19 [3, 89]. The first dog, an elderly (17 year old) Pomeranian had repeated tests while in quarantine and did develop an antibody response to the virus after further testing; this dog later had negative tests for the virus and was released from quarantine to the owner. Sadly, this dog passed away shortly afterwards; this was thought to be due to ongoing health issues in the elderly dog, rather than COVID-19 [10].

A two-year-old German Shepherd dog also tested positive for the virus while quarantined because the owner had tested positive for COVID-19 [9]. This dog also developed antibodies to the virus and virus was isolated from this dog. The German Shepherd later had negative virus test results for 10 consecutive days. Another mixed-breed dog from the same household was also quarantined but continually tested negative for the virus.

None of these dogs showed any clinical signs consistent with COVID-19 infection [9].

2 Cat in Belgium

There was a report in March 2020 of a pet cat in Belgium testing positive for the virus, after the cat’s owner was infected with COVID-19 [23]. This cat was unwell, and had vomiting, diarrhoea, and respiratory signs [11]. The cat recovered uneventfully and it is reported that the cat would have ongoing monitoring to determine whether antibodies to the virus develop [1112]. No conclusions can responsibly be drawn regarding this case in Belgium because the samples that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were taken from the environment (and not directly from the animal) by the owner and no antibody tests were performed. Therefore, contamination of samples from the environment/owner cannot be ruled out. In addition, it seems that the cat was not fully evaluated for other, more common causes for his/her clinical signs. Therefore, although it is suspected that the cat was infected with SARS-CoV-2, this cannot be confirmed [10].

3 Tigers and lions in the Bronx Zoo

At the end of March 2020, several tigers and lions at a zoo in New York showed signs of respiratory illness. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed that one tiger at the zoo tested positive to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is not known if the animals’ illness was related to SARS-CoV-2 [10, 13]. Only one animal was tested initially due to the difficulties in testing the big cats but it was assumed that the other big cats were also infected.

On April 23, the Bronx Zoo confirmed that three other tigers and three African lions that exhibited a cough also tested positive for COVID-19. All eight cats have recovered. None of the zoo’s other cats have shown any signs of suspicious illness.

The zoo confirmed that the cats were infected by a staff person who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms [1415].

4 Cat in Hong Kong

One pet cat tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Hong Kong on March 30, after the cat’s owner was diagnosed with COVID-19. The cat showed no signs of disease but was quarantined anyway [10, 16]. The cat had anti-bodies to SARS-CoV-2 on further testing. The cat was returned to the owner (May 4) after completing quarantine and consecutive negative test results [17].

Testing of cats and dogs in quarantine in Hong Kong

As of March 31, the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department in Hong Kong had conducted tests on 27 dogs and 15 cats held in quarantine because they came from households with people ill from COVID-19. Of these, only two dogs and one cat (as described above) had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 [10]. No further tests or positive cases have been reported and no animals have developed clinical signs of respiratory disease [10].

5 Cats in New York

On April 22, the Centre for Disease Control and the US National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in two pet cats. Both cats had mild respiratory illness and were tested for SARS-CoV-2 on March 23. The cats lived in two separate areas of New York state [10, 18].

One cat’s owner had COVID-19 prior to the cat showing clinical signs, and the other cat in the household exhibited no clinical signs of illness [10, 18].

The other cat with SARS-CoV-2 infection, has no known contact with people confirmed to be ill with COVID-19 but does live in a household in an affected neighbourhood and is allowed to go outdoors. It has been suggested that the virus may have been transmitted to the cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside the cat’s home [10, 1819].

On April 29, both cats were confirmed to have tested positive for antibodies for SARS-Cov-2 [20]. This supports the evidence that these cats were infected with SARS-Cov-2. Both cats made a full recovery.

6 Mink on mink farms in The Netherlands

On April 23, 25 and 30, the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality reported that mink from three mink farms in the Netherlands had tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The mink had respiratory and gastrointestinal signs [21]. This is considered to be a case of transmission from humans to animals; as people working at the mink farms had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Further testing was undertaken [22].

Two additional mink farms in the Netherlands were later found to have SARS-CoV-2 infected Mink (May 7), bringing the total to five farms [23]. It is thought that infected humans transmitted the SARS-CoV-2 virus to the mink. Ongoing screening for the virus is being carried out on mink farms.

Screening is also being conducted at rabbit farms in the area because, according to a report from the Netherlands Agriculture Minister, research at Erasmus University Rotterdam showed that rabbits also are sensitive to SARS-CoV-2 [23]. There has been no peer-reviewed evidence of rabbit susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 yet, so the monitoring on rabbit farms in the Netherlands is precautionary and may provide evidence to better understand the risk to rabbits.

On May 19, the Agriculture Minister of the Netherlands reported new research findings in the ongoing investigation into COVID-19 at mink farms in that country [2425]. The reported findings include that SARS-CoV-2 infection in mink can lead to pneumonia and death, but the proportion of animals who become ill and the number who die are low.In addition, pregnant animals appear to develop more serious disease and are more likely to die as a result but there has been no increase in pup mortality noted [10]. It was also found that mink infected with the virus may be asymptomatic [2425]. Additionally, comparisons of viral sequences detected in samples from mink on the farms suggest that, after mink were infected by farm workers with COVID-19, there was transmission of virus between the mink on each farm [23].

In the Minister’s report on May 19, and based on further investigations of viral genetic material from infected mink and those from infected farm workers (including comparative analyses plus phylogenetic mapping of viral genomic sequences), it was suggested that mink-to-human transmission may have occurred in one person. On May 25, a 2nd incidence of possible mink-to-human transmission involving up to three people was detected on one of the infected mink farms [26]. Further investigation is being undertaken to clarify this possibility.

Extra precautionary measures have been put in place on the mink farms [2425] and, from May 20, mandatory testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection at all mink farms in The Netherlands is being undertaken. It is also now mandatory that any of an animal (mink or otherwise) with SARS-CoV-2 in the Netherlands must be reported to the appropriate government authority.

It is worth noting that there has been no information made available about COVID-19 affecting mink in China, despite China having the largest mink industry in the world. A preprint paper (not peer-reviewed) published on medRxiv on Jan 25, highlighted that mink could be a potential SARS-CoV-2 reservoir [27].

7 Dog in North Carolina (USA)

It was reported on April 27, that a dog in the US state of North Carolina tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is thought to be another case of human to animal transmission, as the pug dog lives in a household and in very close contact with people infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus. The dog was tested as part of a household surveillance study coordinated by researchers at Duke University. The pug was described as having mild signs of illness but the signs described are typical of the breathing difficulties suffered by brachycephalic dogs like pugs, although he was also reportedly not eating normally. It is not known if any of his signs were related to SARS-CoV-2 infection. The three other pets in the family (another dog, a cat and a lizard) tested negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus [28].

8 Cat in Paris

A study of infection of SARS-CoV-2 in cats living with owners in Paris suspected of having been infected with COVID-19 was officially reported to the French Veterinary Services on May 1. One cat tested positive for the virus and was likely infected by the owner [29].

9 Cat in Spain (Catalonia)

A cat in Spain, who was euthanased due to heart failure (most likely from a serious pre-existing genetic heart condition), tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 (May 8) [30]. The cat lived with several people who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and was likely infected with SARS-CoV-2 by these people.

10 Cat in France (Bordeaux)

The National Veterinary School of Toulouse (ENVT) announced on May 12, that a cat tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Bordeaux, France [31]. The cat lived with people who were suspected to have COVID-19 and was probably infected by them. The cat had respiratory signs, was treated by a veterinarian, and the signs persisted despite treatment. The cat was then tested for SARS-CoV-2 and the results returned positive. No further details were given. The ENVT’s statement concluded that, in the light of available scientific knowledge, there is no evidence that pets and farm animals play a role in the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus [31].

11 Cat in Germany

A confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection of a cat in Germany was notified to the World Organisation for Animal Health on May 12 [3]. This 6-year-old cat lived with her owner in a retirement home; sadly the owner died due to COVID-19 on April 12 [31]. There was a COVID-19 outbreak in the retirement home, and there were another 2 cats also living there. All 3 cats had contact with the residents of the home, but none of the cats showed any signs of respiratory disease. Only one cat tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. All the cats were immediately isolated in a quarantine facility and had further testing on May 4. The 2 negative cats remained negative while the positive cat was confirmed as positive for SARS-CoV-2. As of May 6, none of the cats had shown any signs of respiratory disease. The cats were to be closely monitored for clinical signs of SARS-CoV-2, and further investigations performed [31].

12 Cats on SARS-CoV-2 affected mink farms in the Netherlands

It was reported on May 15, that three cats on one of the SARS-CoV-2 affected mink farms in the Netherlands were found to have antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 (eleven cats were tested on the farm) [32].This indicates that the cats had previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2 but no viable virus was found in the cats. It is not known how the cats contracted the infection but they may have been infected from infected farm workers or mink [32].

Further research was conducted on this farm and it was reported on May 25 that, in total, seven of the twenty-four sampled cats at this farm were found to have antibodies against the virus [26]. This includes the three cats reported on above (so, an extra four cats were found to be positive when a further thirteen cats were tested). In just one of the seven positive cats, the presence of viral genetic material was also demonstrated.

13 Dog in the Netherlands

On May 15, the 8 year old American bulldog of a COVID-19 patient in the Netherlands was reported to have antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 [32]. The dog had breathing problems and was euthanased on April 30 due to worsening of his/her condition. It is not known if the dog’s disease was related to SARS-CoV-2 and the dog tested negative for viable virus. This case is not related to the infected mink farms in the Netherlands [32].

14 Cat in Spain (La Rioja)

Researchers from Spain tested asymptomatic mammalian pets in quarantine because they came from 17 households with confirmed human cases of COVID-19 infection [33]. A total of 23 animals were tested: eight cats, one guinea pig, two rabbits and twelve dogs. On May 21, it was reported in a medRxiv preprint that one cat who displayed no clinical symptoms tested positive for SARS-CoV-2; the remaining pets tested negative.

15 Cat in Russia

On May 26, 2020, it was reported that a 5 year old cat in Moskva, Russia tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. That cat has been quarantined at his/her home [34]. No further details have been given at this time.

There is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus but further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected.

Commercial laboratory testing of companion animal samples

A large veterinary diagnostics laboratory has evaluated thousands of canine and feline samples in the USA, Canada, South Korea, 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 [2, 10].

Surveillance testing of animals in China

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 [3] and there have been no positive tests reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health. In China, animals from fur farms (including mink, foxes, raccoon dogs) have also been tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. So far all have been negative [10, 12].

Field studies

On April 3, some Chinese researchers reported findings suggesting that some cats in Wuhan were infected with SARS-CoV-2 during the COVID-19 outbreak there, and that cats produce specific antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 under natural conditions. The researchers analysed 102 blood samples from cats after the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, and 39 prior to the outbreak. The results were published on the website biorxiv.org; a disclaimer on the biorxiv.org website notes that papers posted there “should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or be reported in news media as established information.” The results indicated that cats 14.7% (15 out of the 102) of the cat blood samples collected after the outbreak tested positive for the presence of antibodies specific for SARS-CoV-2. The three cats owned by COVID-19 affected patients had the highest reported levels of antibodies. It was not reported how many of the 87 cats who had no antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 lived with people who had COVID-19. 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 [35]. This study provided limited initial evidence that cats can be exposed to the virus, likely by infected people, and mount an antibody response. However, the low rate of cats who developed antibodies indicating infection, and the very low to non-existent antibody levels in all but the three cats who lived with people diagnosed with COVID-19, suggested that cats may not be readily infected with SARS-CoV-2 under natural conditions. In addition, cats who are naturally exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and become infected, likely shed the virus for only a short period of time and at low levels [36]. It is not known what the significance of these results are but there is still no evidence of any cat-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 [10].

Another paper was published on April 9 on the website biorxiv.org, which reported on analysis of samples from dogs and cats living in close contact with a group of French veterinary students. Some of these students had tested positive for COVID-19 and others in the same community had subsequently showed symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection. None of the 21 pets (twelve dogs and nine cats) tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and none had antibodies to the virus [37].

Natural infection in wildlife

Wild tiger in Pench National Park, India

It was reported that a wild tiger who died in Pench National Park on April 4, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The cause of death is not known but was reported as possibly due to COVID-19. As a preacution, all forest department officials of Pench Tiger Reserve were quarantined after the death of the tiger. None showed any sign of infection and have now finished their quarantine [38].

Since it is now known that domestic cats can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, it is not unexpected that big cats can also be infected. However, it is a concern that this virus could affect and establish itself in wild animals. Of particular concern are endangered animals such as big cats like tigers. Therefore, it is important to take measures (such as closing National Parks in which there are potentially vulnerable wildlife) to prevent movement of the virus into wild animal populations.

There is no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in Australian wildlife [39] and no evidence that any other animals (including companion animals, farm animals or wildlife) are involved in the spread of this virus in Australia [5].

Wildlife Health Australia (WHA) is continually assessing information on COVID-19, including consideration of the theoretical risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to bats and other wildlife in Australia [40]. WHA has reported that a formal assessment of the risk of transmission to bats is currently underway, and should be completed before the end of May. In the interim, there is no evidence to indicate that research or rehabilitation of bats should be restricted in Australia, provided the recommended biosecurity measures are used. While recommendations on restriction of bat research and rehabilitation activities have been made by the IUCN and some overseas government agencies, the situation markedly differs in Australia due to the current low prevalence of COVID-19 in the country [40].

Information for bat carers and others interacting with bats in Australia can be found here.

Laboratory experiments

On April 8, 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 [41]. The results indicated that cats and ferrets are susceptible to experimental infection with SARS-CoV-2; 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 two cats became infected with SARS-CoV-2, after being experimentally exposed under ideal conditions to infected cats. The researchers suggested that cats may be able to transmit the virus to other cats. However, the results of this research must be treated with caution; while experimental studies like this offer some information about the virus and its behaviour, they cannot be directly linked to what happens in real life. Above all, only small numbers of animals were involved and it is not known whether the doses of the virus that were given to the animals to cause infection in the laboratory would occur in a natural setting where an infected person (such as the owner) was the potential source of the infection. There is no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people.

On March 23, research into the use of ferrets as an experimental animal model was reported, with the intention of using this research to evaluate treatments and vaccines for the disease in humans [42]. 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, all under experimental conditions. There is no evidence of natural infection of ferrets and no evidence that ferrets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people.

A peer-reviewed study (March 26) suggested that Syrian hamsters may also be able to be used as an experimental animal model for the human COVID-19. The researchers experimentally infected Syrian hamsters by giving them high doses of SARS-CoV-2 directly into the animals’ noses. The study presented evidence that Syrian hamsters can be experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2, have mild to moderate disease signs similar to those shown by humans with COVID-19, and that hamsters can pass SARS-CoV-2 to other hamsters. There was no evidence that hamsters play any role in transmitting COVID-19 to humans [43].

A study at the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut reported on SARS-CoV-2 infection studies performed in pigs, chickens, fruit bats and ferrets. These results indicate that fruit bats and ferrets are susceptible to infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but that pigs and chickens are not [10, 4445]. Again, there is no evidence of natural infection of fruit bats or ferrets, and no evidence that these animals can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people.

Another non-peer reviewed pre-print paper investigating transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between ferrets was published on the website biorxiv.org on April 17. Little new information was added to previous research by this study, but it does support evidence that ferrets are able to be infected by SARS-CoV-2, that they can shed the virus for a relatively long time (up to 11-19 days), and that they can infect other ferrets [46].

Results of these experimental studies must be regarded with caution and not extrapolated to mean that these animals will be infected naturally under real world conditions. Experimental conditions, which are ideal for viral infection and transmission, are very different to natural conditions, which tend to be far less favourable to the occurrence of infection and transmission. In addition, these studies involve very small numbers of animals and may not accurately represent what occurs in the real world.

There was another on COVID-19 and cats (involving just three cats) published on May 13 [47]. This was a very brief paper with few details and did not really provide any additional information, just further confirmation that cats can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, that infected cats may or may not get sick, and that cats can spread the virus to other cats.

Other literature

A paper was published on April 14, in the journal Microbial Biology and Evolution, suggesting that stray dogs might have served as the bridge for transmission between a bat and humans for COVID-19 [48]. There are no confirmed scientific findings in this paper, just speculation based on the author’s theories. There is no validated evidence to suggest that dogs are involved in the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and caution should be used when considering this paper’s unsubstantiated and speculative conclusions.

On April 11 & 18, two non-peer reviewed pre-print papers were posted on the bioRxiv site discussing molecular modelling and in vitro studies that assess some of the molecular pathways involved in SARS-CoV-2 infection. This information is then used as a basis for theorising whether certain species may be potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. This kind of information may help to discover more about the biology and behaviour of SARS-CoV-2, but cannot be used to make definitive judgements about whether SARS-CoV-2 can infect or be transmitted by particular animal species under natural (or experimental) conditions [10].

Another non-peer reviewed pre-print paper discussing the potential for the anti-parasitic medication ivermectin to treat COVID-19 in people, was published on the Biorxiv on April 17. This is a medication that is used as a heartworm medication in pets. This paper concluded that, although ivermectin can kill SARS-CoV-2, the concentration needed is very high and it is not a viable treatment for COVID-19 because drug levels that would kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus would likely be toxic to the patient, potentially fatally [49].

These experimental research reports do not provide conclusive evidence that cats, ferrets, or other domestic animals can be readily infected with SARS-CoV-2 naturally, nor do they demonstrate that cats, ferrets or other domestic animals transmit the virus under natural conditions [10]. However, the evidence does support taking some precautionary steps to protect our pets.

Testing for SARS-CoV-2 and monitoring transmission

Public health services and disease experts around the world are closely monitoring the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and continue to maintain that there is no evidence of transmission from domestic animals to people, and that even human-to-animal transmission is not a significant way for the virus to spread [1011]. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that domestic animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19.

Routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is not recommended [4, 10, 5051]. Although a SARS-Cov-2 test for pets is now available in Australia, diagnostic testing and surveillance in Australian animals for COVID-19 is not recommended, unless on the advice of human and animal health authorities if the case meets very specific criteria [5051].

It is also important to note that infection of animals with SARS-CoV-2 needs to be reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), through the relevant authorities .

Precautions

Animal owners/handlers should continue to implement good hygiene and farm biosecurity practices where animals are kept, including washing their hands before and after contact with animals. People who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid or minimise close contact with animals as a precaution, just as they would with other people [51]. While these are recommended as good practices, it is important to remember that there is little to no evidence that pets or other domestic animals who are naturally exposed to SARS-CoV-2 become sick with COVID-19 or spread the virus to other domestic animals, and no evidence that they can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes even if COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. During this pandemic emergency, pets and people each need the support, comfort and companionship of the other and should stay together if possible [10].

How can I ensure my animal’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.

  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

For information about leaving your home to care for animals during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) (2020) Update on report of transmission from human to pet dog in Hong Kong.

[9] Sit THC, Brackman CJ, Ip SM et al (2020) Infection of dogs with SARS-CoV-2. Nature, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2334-5.

[10] American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) (2020) SARS-CoV-2 in animals, including pets.

[11] World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (2020) COVID-19 – An update for WSAVA Members – Week ending April 3rd, 2020.

[12] OIE Advisory Group on COVID-19 and animals (2020) 4th call of the OIE Advisory Group on COVID-19 and animals 31st March 2020.

[13] United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (2020) USDA Statement on the Confirmation of COVID-19 in a Tiger in New York.

[14] World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (2020) OIE Report SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 lion test

[15] Bronx Zoo (2020) 22.4.2020 Update: Bronx Zoo Tigers and Lions Recovering from COVID-19.

[16] The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (2020) Pet cat tests positive for COVID-19 virus.

[17] World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (2020) OIE Report SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Fisheries and Conservation Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, Follow-up report No. 1 (Final report).

[18] United States Department of Agriculture (2020) Confirmation of COVID-19 in Two Pet Cats in New York.

[19] World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (2020) SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, United States of America Follow-up report No. 2 on New York cats.

[20] World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (2020) OIE Report SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, United States of America.

[21] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (135): Netherlands (NB) animal, farmed mink.

[22] Ministry of Agriculture Nature and Food Quality The Netherlands (2020) SARS-CoV-2 infection of minks in the Netherlands.

[23] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (169): Netherlands (Norht Brabant) animal, farmed mink, spread, rabbit susp.

[24] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (198): Netherlands (NB) farmed mink, animal-to-human infect susp.

[25] Government of the Netherlands (2020) New results from research into COVID-19 on mink farms.

[26] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (209): Netherlands (NB) farmed mink, animal-to-human, cat, epid.

[27] Guo Q, Li M, Wang C et al (2020) Host and infectivity prediction of Wuhan 2019 novel coronavirus using deep learning algorithm. Preprint from medRxiv Jan 25, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.21.914044

[28] Weese S (2020) SARS-CoV-2 in a dog: North Carolina.

[29] Sailleau C, Dumarest M, Vanhomwegen J et al (2020) Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) update (149): France (IF) animal, cat, owned. ProMED-mail International Society for Infectious Diseases

[30] Dominguez N (2020) Spain records its first case of a cat with coronavirus. El Pais.

[31] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (181): Germany (BY), France (AC).

[32] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (189): Netherlands (NB) animal, farmed mink, research, cat, dog.

[33] Ruiz-Arrondo I, Portillo A, Palomar AM et al (2020) Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in pets living with COVID-19 owners diagnosed during the COVID-19 lockdown in Spain: A case of an asymptomatic cat with SARS-CoV-2 in Europe Preprint from medRxiv May 21, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.14.20101444

[34] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (176): Russia (Moskva) cat, OIE.

[35] Zhang Q, Zhang H, Huang K et al. (2020) SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing serum antibodies in cats : a serological investigation.

[36] World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (2020) COVID-19 – An update for WSAVA Members April 6 2020.

[37] Temmam S, Barbarino A, Djérène M et al. (2020) Absence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in cats and dogs in close contact with a cluster of COVID-19 patients in a veterinary campus.

[38] ProMED (2020) COVID-19 update (138): India, animal, wild tiger, fatal.

[39] Wildlife Health Australia (2020) Novel Coronavirus 2019 Fact sheet.

[40] Wildlife Health Australia (2020) COVID-19 and Bats.

[41] Shi J, Wen Z, Zhong G et al. (2020) Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS-coronavirus 2. Science, 1–23.

[42] Kim Y-I, Kim S-G, Kim S-M et al. (2020) Infection and Rapid Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Ferrets. Cell Host & Microbe, 27:1–6.

[43] Chan JF-W, Zhang AJ, Yuan S et al. (2020) Simulation of the clinical and pathological manifestations of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in golden Syrian hamster model: implications for disease pathogenesis and transmissibility. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 1–50.

[44] Schlottau K, Rissmann M, Graaf A et al (2020) Experimental Transmission Studies of SARS-CoV-2 in Fruit Bats, Ferrets, Pigs and Chickens. Preprints with The Lancet, SSRN.

[45] O’Connor AM, Totton SC, Sargeant JM (2020) COVID-19 and Animals.

[46] Richard M, Kok A, de Meulder D et al (2020) SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted via contact and via the air between ferrets.

[47] Halfmann PJ, Hatta M, Chiba S et al (2020) Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Domestic Cats. The New England Journal of Medicine, doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2013400.

[48] Xia X (2020) Extreme genomic CpG deficiency in SARS-CoV-2 and evasion of host antiviral defense. Molecular Biology and Evolution.

[49] Momekov G, Momekova D (2020) Ivermectin as a potential COVID-19 treatment from the pharmacokinetic point of view.

[50] Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) (2020) COVID-19 AVA Working Group update April 24.

[51] Animal Health Committee (AHC) of the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC) (2020) Policy statement on COVID-19 diagnostic testing and surveillance in animals.

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Updated on May 29, 2020
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