Veterinarians FAQs

This information provided about COVID-19 and animals is preliminary and will be updated as further information becomes available.

COVID-19 and Animals

Can companion animals become infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 illness in humans) and develop illness?

The probability that companion animals in the household of a COVID-19 case will be exposed and become infected, is thought to be low to moderate, depending on the species. However, only limited information is available and there is still uncertainty about how this virus will behave in various animal species. 
 
At this time, there is evidence that cats, ferrets, hamsters, and dogs have at least some level of susceptibility to infection with SARS-CoV-2 and cats, ferrets, and hamsters may develop illness. 

A summary of the current evidence for various animals is available in the appendix doc.

Can livestock become infected with SARS-CoV-2?

To date, there have not been any reports of livestock being infected by SARS-CoV-2 anywhere. 

  • Recent research has not found livestock (i.e. pigs, chickens, ducks) to be susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2 (Shi et al., 2020, Beer et al., 2020).
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting research on domestic animal species (pigs, chickens, turkeys) to determine their susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and validate test methods and the potential for transmission between animals. 
  • Information on the susceptibility of other livestock species to this virus is not currently known. More information from experimental studies being conducted in livestock is anticipated in the coming weeks.

A summary of the current evidence for various animals is available in the appendix doc.

Are there other animals that have been shown to be susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2?

There have been reports of big cats (tigers and lions) at a zoo in New York as well as farmed mink in the Netherlands testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. 

A summary of the current evidence for various animals is available in the appendix doc.

If a companion animal becomes infected, what is the evidence that it can transmit the virus to other animals?

There is limited evidence that ferrets, cats, and hamsters can spread the infection to other naïve animals of the same species, under experimental conditions. Dogs have not been found to be able to transmit the virus to other dogs.

A summary of the current evidence for various animals is available in the appendix doc.

If a companion animal becomes infected, what is the evidence that it can transmit the virus to people?

There have not been any reports of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from a companion animal to a person, despite a widespread international pandemic. The probability of transmission by an infected companion animal to a person is currently considered low in most cases, although this may be somewhat higher for people (such as veterinarians or veterinary technicians) who could have close contact with cats or ferrets from COVID-19 positive households. There is a high level of uncertainty regarding whether or not these animals would shed a sufficient amount of virus to result in transmission under natural conditions.

What is the evidence that animals can act as fomites to mechanically transmit SARS-CoV-2, after contamination by a human case, to another person?

Although there is a potential risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 through contact with a contaminated hair coat/fur, there is only a theoretical risk of transmission of the virus to a person through this route. It is considered unlikely that a sufficient amount of virus would remain on the hair coat/fur long enough to transmit infection in most cases. Practicing proper hygiene such as handwashing would further reduce any possible risk.

A summary of the current evidence for various animals is available in the appendix doc.

As a veterinarian or animal health professional, I am concerned about working around animals (pets/livestock) that have been exposed to people with COVID-19. Are there any extra precautions I should be taking?

This pandemic is being driven by person-to-person transmission; therefore, the main considerations to protect health are maintaining physical distancing, practicing proper hygiene and cleaning, and minimizing contact (both direct and indirect) with your human clients as well as between employees, which poses the greatest risk to the health of you and your staff.

There are still many unknowns about how this virus will behave in various animal species. Two possible transmission routes to consider are: 

  • Contact with an infected companion animal: There have not been any reports of transmission from a companion animal to a person, despite a widespread pandemic. However, recent research has found that ferrets, cats, and hamsters can transmit the infection to other ferrets, cats, and hamsters, respectively. The probability of transmission from an infected animal to a person is currently assessed as low in most cases, but this assessment has high uncertainty, given the limited information. 
  • Mechanical (fomite) transmission through contact with a contaminated animal: Although there is a potential risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 through contact with a contaminated hair coat/fur, it is considered unlikely that a sufficient amount of virus would remain on the hair coat/fur long enough to transmit infection in most cases.

While the probability of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 through the above routes is thought to be low, and notably much lower than the probability of being infected by another person, the probability is not zero, and may vary depending on circumstances. Animals presenting from households with a history of recent confirmed or suspected COVID-19 illness with no strict measures to minimize contact would be considered higher risk for infection or contamination. Professional judgement should be utilized to assess and identify high-risk situations and determine the appropriate precautionary measures, while helping to conserve and maintain the critical supply of PPE for human healthcare settings.

If an animal from a high-risk household requires urgent care, to help manage these potential risks follow basic public health guidance for preventing zoonotic disease transmission, as well as additional precautions, if necessary:

  • wear protective outerwear (e.g. lab coat, gown) to prevent contamination of your clothes
  • wear gloves (if possible) and wash your hands before and after touching a high-risk animal or their food/water/supplies, and after cleaning up after them; do not touch your face with unwashed hands
  • regularly clean and disinfect any surfaces or objects the animal touches; learn more from the Hard-surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers (COVID-19): List of disinfectants information page 
  • minimize the animal’s contact with people and other animals 
  • if close contact with the animal is required (e.g. restraint, or any procedure that brings a person’s face close to the animal’s face or hair coat/fur), additional personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. mask, eye protection if available) can be utilized to further reduce risk, especially to protect from facial contact (eyes, nose, mouth) with the animal directly (hair coat/fur) or with respiratory droplets/aerosols

Additional precautionary measures that could further reduce risk include:

  • wiping down animals with a pet-friendly disinfectant product (or potentially bathing, depending on circumstances) could theoretically help to reduce any possible hair coat/fur contamination, although there is no evidence to demonstrate effectiveness
  • minimizing handling admitted patient requiring non-emergent care for 2-3 days to reduce the risk of fomite transmission to negligible. 

The situation is evolving rapidly and precautions should be considered within the general context of the evolving epidemiology and science. 

Follow any further COVID-19 related recommendations from your veterinary licencing authority or associations, or public health authority. 

My clients heard about animals testing positive for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), and are worried about their health and the health of their families. What advice should I be providing? 

This pandemic is being driven by person-to-person transmission. If a household, including any pets, is following current recommended physical distancing measures, it would be considered very unlikely that the animal would be a source of infection for the household. To date, all reports of animals becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 are believed to be cases of human-to-animal transmission, usually from an infected owner to their pet dog or cat.

Advise your clients that if they have COVID-19 symptoms or are self-isolating due to contact with a COVID-19 case, they should follow similar recommendations around their animals, as they would around people in these circumstances: 

  • avoid close contact (petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sharing food) with their animals during their illness
    • practice good handwashing and avoid coughing and sneezing on animals
  • if possible, have another member of their household care for their animals 
    • if this is not possible, they should always wash their hands before and after touching their animals, their food and supplies
  • restrict their animal's contact with other people and animals outside the household until their illness is resolved or they are no longer required by public health to self-isolate (approximately 14 days)
    • cats should remain indoors at all times 
    • dogs should be kept on a leash or within a private fenced area when taken outside for elimination activities, and kept away from other animals and people

Some additional considerations include: 

  • The greatest risk of infection by far is still from contact with infected people.
  • Animals can be a great comfort and help make us happy during times of stress and there are many health benefits to owning a pet, particularly during periods when physical distancing or self-isolation are required.
  • There is no reason at this time to think that surrendering an animal will significantly decrease a pet owner’s risk.
  • There is limited evidence of some companion animals being able to transmit the infection to other animals under experimental conditions, however, there have not been any reports of transmission from animals-to-people. The risk of a person getting infected from contact with an infected companion animal is theoretical at this point and considered low in most cases. A summary of the current evidence is provided in the Appendix below.
  • Any theoretical risk is transient. Generally speaking, if a companion animal were to become infected from contact with an ill person in the household, once the person (or household) is able to come out of self-isolation (approximately 14 days), their animals can also be out in the community.

My client was ill with symptoms of COVID-19 and is now worried that their pet could be an ongoing source of infection for others. Is this a concern?

Even if the pet was exposed to the virus in the household during the owner’s illness, it is unlikely that the pet would be a source of the virus (either by being infected themselves or by contamination of their hair coat/fur) beyond the owner’s own course of disease. Virus transmission is predominantly person-to-person. There have not been any reports of animals transmitting the virus back to people but there are still many unknowns. Precautions should be taken for 14 days after the pet’s last unprotected exposure to a human case, including keeping the pet at home and restricting contact with other people and animals. After this time, the pet can also be out in the community.

Authored by a working group consisting of Canadian public health and animal health experts, with representation from federal and provincial/territorial governments, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, and academia. It takes into consideration past and current research on coronaviruses and COVID-19, as well as expert opinion. The findings and conclusions represent the consensual, but not necessarily unanimous, opinions of the working group participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of the participants’ respective organizations. 

 

Published date: 
May 4, 2020
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