With recent scares concerning coronaviruses in people, pet owners naturally want to understand more about the disease potential in their beloved companions. To help clear up the confusion, we answer the most commonly asked questions about the recent strain of human coronavirus (COVID-19), and also address whether you need to be worried about your pet’s health. 

Question: What is a coronavirus?

Answer: Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that infect almost all species. In humans, most coronaviruses lead to respiratory illnesses, while dogs and cats usually suffer from intestinal forms, although respiratory forms are also possible. 

Q: How deadly are coronaviruses?

A: Most coronaviruses are not cause for concern, and at best cause only mild illness, such as the common cold. However, deaths have been reported from the COVID-19 strain. 

Q: How did the novel coronavirus COVID-19 develop?

A: Although coronaviruses are species-specific, and cross-species transmission is uncommon, many human coronaviruses have jumped over from animals. The more recent humanized coronavirus strains have developed from the betacoronaviruses of bats, potentially linked by camels and civet cats. The MERS and SARS coronaviruses died out before making the jump from bats to humans, but the Wuhan form (COVID-19) has successfully adapted to humans. Many people fear that their pets may also become infected with COVID-19, but the process that allows the virus to jump from one host to another is slow, and requires significant genetic change. At this point, pets appear to be safe from COVID-19, with only people affected.

Q: How are coronaviruses spread?

A: General opinion is that coronaviruses are most often spread through respiratory droplets, such as sneezing or coughing. These viruses do not survive for long on surfaces, so fomite transmission is less risky than direct contact with an infected person.

Q: What are the symptoms of COVID-19 in people?

A: Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Symptoms in people may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure, and include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. No COVID-19 cases are known in pets. 

Q: Can pets get COVID-19 from people or vice versa?

A: The simple answer—you cannot get COVID-19 from your dog, and she cannot get it from you. Coronaviruses are species-specific, and only a new strain will adapt to find a new host. Although COVID-19 appears to have been altered from an animal source, transmission is now from person to person in China, meaning there is no reason to think any animals could be a source of infection. To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. However, since pets can act as virus carriers, simply by carrying virus particles on their fur, you should always wash your hands thoroughly after handling your pet or any other animal.

Q: What about the dog who tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong?

A: While a dog did test positive for COVID-19, that does not necessarily mean the dog was infected with the virus. Samples taken from the dog’s nose and mouth gave a weak positive result, but the test used to detect virus particles is highly sensitive, and can pick up tiny amounts of living or dead viral material. Since this dog was living with a person infected with COVID-19, it is much more likely that the virus contaminated the dog’s nose or mouth. The dog is currently quarantined, with further testing planned.

Q: Don’t dogs develop coronaviruses?

A: Yes, coronaviruses develop in virtually every animal species, including humans, but they are highly species-specific. In dogs, coronaviruses can cause respiratory or intestinal disease, but neither type is the same as COVID-19, which is a human coronavirus.

Q: How can I protect my family from COVID-19?

A: Although there is no evidence that dogs can transmit COVID-19, they can still carry virus particles in their fur, which can be passed on to you. Since your dog is likely safe from this coronavirus, the main concern is for your non-furry family members. The same way you protect your family from the common cold, you should take the following steps to guard your family against COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands regularly, particularly before eating, and after sneezing, coughing, and using the restroom.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Thoroughly cook meat and eggs.
  • Avoid anyone who shows illness signs, such as coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect regularly used surfaces in your home.
  • Cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue, then throw it away.

Major health organizations, including the World Health Organization, report that pets do not get sick from COVID-19, but more investigation is necessary to fully understand this coronavirus strain. For the most up-to-date information, or if you are worried about your pet’s health, contact us.