Fact Finders: Can my pet get coronavirus?

COVID-19 and pets

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Spending more time with your pets may be one of the best parts of staying home during the coronavirus outbreak. But, can your four-legged friends get sick, too?

That question was sent to our KOLD Fact Finders Team.

The first case of an animal testing positive in the United States came over the weekend after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York city tested positive. Samples from this tiger were taken and tested after several lions and tigers at the zoo showed symptoms of respiratory illness. Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus.

“There have been a few reported cases of animals testing positive, but at this point, there’s no kind of scientific evidence to back it up as far as the spread from pets to people,” said Dr. Tara Farrell, veterinarian at The Pet Doctor on Oracle Road.

According to the CDC, coronaviruses that infect animals can sometimes be spread to people, but this is rare. The CDC is aware of a very small number of pets, both dogs and cats, outside the United States that have been infected.

“I think if pets played a role in giving this to people, we would know by now," said Dr. Rachael Kreisler with the Midwestern University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The British Veterinary Association issued guidance on COVID-19 and cats this week. The BVA said cat owners who are self-isolating or have symptoms should consider keeping their pets indoors, if possible. The association said animals can hold the virus on their fur if they are petted by someone who has contracted it.

“The biggest thing is to practice good hygiene, like everyone’s been saying," said Dr. Farrell. "Wash your hands during, before and after interaction with animals. Washing your hands after feeding them, handling their waste and other supplies.”

The United States Department of Agriculture suggests anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people.

If animals can catch the virus, can they give it back to people?

At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.

Will this finding prompt additional testing of animals?

No. This is an evolving situation, however, routine testing of zoo or personal animals is not recommended at this time. Public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals that are showing signs of illness and that are known to have been exposed to the virus. More information about how those decisions will be made is available here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf

Should any animal showing signs of respiratory illness be tested?

USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus. Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state or federal public and animal health officials.

Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick from coronavirus (COVID-19)?

You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets. More information is available on how to keep people and animals safe at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.

For more information from the USDA, click here.

Dr. Farrell stressed the importance of putting together a plan for your pet if you or a loved one gets sick and has to be hospitalized.

Right now, veterinarians said the best place for your pet is still at home.

“You can definitely have them in the house, that’s okay. But if you’re coughing, I wouldn’t cough in their face and what not," said Dr. Farrell.

“Please don’t be worried, if you feel sick, don’t kiss your dog," said Dr. Kreisler. "But, by and large they’re pretty safe from us and we’re pretty safe from them.”

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.