Are pets at risk of getting, spreading COVID-19?

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Recent reports of cats and dogs becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its guidelines for pets. According to the CDC, two pet cats in New York City became the first domestic animals in the U.S. to test positive for the virus. Then earlier this week, a pug in North Carolina became the first dog to receive the diagnosis. In all cases, the pets had become infected after having close contact with people with COVID-19.

Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic COVID-19 expert, says dogs and cats have their own set of coronaviruses that they don’t really spread to humans. However, health experts are still learning a lot about COVID-19.

“Traditionally, the feeling has been that these novel coronaviruses are really not a significant issue in terms of passing back and forth between humans and their pets. Having said that, there’s one dog, there are a few tigers and there are a few of cats that have now been diagnosed, that is, have positive RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) assays against COVID-19. So it does occur, but apparently is pretty rare,” says Dr. Poland.

The CDC says there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus. However, Dr. Poland says pet owners should follow these CDC recommendations out of an abundance of caution:

“If you have somebody in your home that’s infected, then stay away from your pets. Similarly, and this is kind of funny in a way, but social distancing (is recommended) for pets. If you take them out for a walk, keep them away from other dogs and cats. I think that’s just good advice.”


©2020 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

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