As we navigate the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, one burning question from pet owners is, “Can dogs get the coronavirus?” The threat of becoming sick with COVID-19 has dramatically altered how society interacts. As the world’s leading scientists learn more about how the virus spreads, it’s natural to wonder how your pets may be affected, too.
Beyond remembering to wash your hands or bring your mask along to the store, do you also need to monitor for signs of coronavirus in your dog? Can official recommendations and safety precautions mitigate the spread in humans, and dogs, too? Read on for answers to these questions and more.
Dogs, Coronaviruses, and Rare Cases
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, belongs to a family of viruses known as Coronaviridae, which cause a wide variety of respiratory and other illnesses in both people and pets. Only some strains of the virus affect animals, but what is coronavirus in dogs, and how does it manifest?
There are two types of canine-specific coronaviruses: canine coronavirus (CCoV) which causes intestinal illness and canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCoV) which, as the name suggests, causes respiratory illness. Both infections are extremely contagious among dogs but do not affect humans or other species.
Although rare, there are a few documented cases of animals testing positive for COVID-19. One of the first confirmed cases by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020 was of a dog in Hong Kong whose owner had also tested positive for the virus. Later, isolated cases of dogs, cats, zoo animals, and mink became apparent, begging the question, “can dogs get coronavirus and then spread it to humans?”
It is uncommon for coronaviruses to jump from species to species. However, previous instances of coronaviruses making the leap from animals to humans have occurred, including with the viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV in recent decades. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is widely believed to have originated in an animal, jumped to humans, and then rapidly spread from person to person. The virus may have existed in animals for some time before making the “zoonotic jump” to humans.
Can Dogs Get Coronavirus from Humans?
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals at risk of contracting COVID-19 are those who are unvaccinated and who have direct contact or close proximity (less than six feet) to an infected person. Based on the rampant spread among humans and the few documented cases of the virus in pets, the CDC believes the risk of animals spreading this virus to humans is extremely low, but many owners are still concerned—can their dogs get coronavirus from their human handlers?
While we still don’t have concrete answers regarding SARS-CoV-2 in dogs, it’s known that the rare cases of COVID-19-positive pets involved animals that were in close contact with infected human handlers. Likely, these handlers were actively shedding high viral loads at the time their pets were infected. Even so, reported cases are exceedingly rare and disease severity in animals appears to be mild. Furthermore, dogs do not appear to play a significant role in the spread of COVID-19.
Other Animals and COVID-19
Other than the small number of companion dogs and cats that have been infected in the United States and elsewhere, other animals have been mildly affected by the virus, too. In Slovenia, a pet ferret tested positive for COVID-19 and several animals in sanctuaries and zoos worldwide have also tested positive for the virus after showing symptoms.
Some of the positive tests have appeared in gorillas and big cats, including lions, tigers, cougars, pumas, and snow leopards. Several mink farms were also impacted by the virus. The belief is that infected staff members spread SARS-CoV-2 to these animals before developing symptoms. However, it is unclear whether any animal can contract COVID-19 or if certain species are more vulnerable.
What Are the Signs of Coronavirus In Dogs?
The coronavirus primarily spreads among people, and this group remains at the greatest risk for developing disease. While it’s possible for pets to contract COVID-19, it does not appear to be a serious health risk for dogs. The CDC lists the possible symptoms of coronavirus in dogs as:
- Nasal discharge
- Eye discharge
- Coughing or sneezing
- Increased respiratory rate
Most affected dogs exhibit mild symptoms, while others show no sign of illness at all. Currently, there are no documented cases of dogs dying from COVID-19.
Can Dogs Get Coronavirus and Spread It Effectively?
Historically, coronaviruses that originated in animals can spread to people, although this is rare. The latest research indicates that dogs do not play a significant role in this spread, especially for the virus that causes COVID-19. However, further research is needed to fully understand how SARS-CoV-2 affects dogs and other animals once it makes the jump between species.
Dr. Jerry Klein, the Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club, does not appear overly concerned about the spread of coronavirus from dogs to people. According to Dr. Klein, “Although animals can contract [COVID-19], it is really not an animal pandemic, and we really have to stress that.”
He emphasizes that in the cases where dogs tested positive for the virus in the United States, human residents in the home were already infected and had close contact with the affected animals. In these cases, transmission occurred from the pet owner to the dog. Still, his research shows these cases to be rare. Currently, there have been no documented cases of dog-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Care and Precautions if Your Dog Contracts Coronavirus
Keep Your Dog at Home Except To Seek Medical Care
If your dog is showing signs of COVID-19 and/or there are potentially infected people in your home, call your veterinarian before bringing your dog in for evaluation. Mention your dog’s signs to the team, taking special care to note any respiratory or breathing problems.
Avoid the following activities and locations until your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead:
- Visits to the veterinary clinic without advanced notification
- Dog parks, groomers, or pet daycare facilities
- Schools, hospitals, and nursing facilities
- Public places, such as markets, or any environment where crowds of people and animals may congregate
Isolate Your Dog From Other Pets and Family Members
- If possible, designate a space in your home strictly for your sick dog, away from other pets and people.
- Do not pet or kiss your dog or allow them to lick you.
- Do not share food or bedding with your dog or other pets in the household.
- If you have a private outdoor space and weather permitting, confine your dog to this area. If you have to walk your dog, keep them leashed and six feet away from other people and animals.
- Wear gloves when cleaning up after your dog and disinfect your hands with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds.
- Disinfect toys and bowls with an EPA-registered disinfectant and clean, warm water.
It is safe to launder and reuse blankets, towels, and bedding, but use the hot water setting when washing, when possible.
Monitor Your Dog’s Signs
Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions. If your dog develops new signs or does not appear to be improving despite treatment, notify your veterinarian immediately.
Protect Yourself While Caring for Your Dog
Caring for your dog should not put you at risk for contracting COVID-19, provided you follow the CDC protocols as detailed below:
- Wear a mask and gloves while caring for your dog. However, never put a mask on your dog.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds each time. Encourage everyone in the household to do the same.
- If you do not have immediate access to soap, use hand sanitizer with a minimum alcohol content of 60%.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
- Never use household surface cleaners or disinfectants on your dog, including hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which could put your pet in danger.
If you have comorbidities or other health issues that put you at a higher risk for serious illness due to COVID-19, designate another member of your household to look after your sick dog.
How Long Do Dogs Need To Isolate After a COVID-19 Diagnosis?
If you are unsure when to end home isolation for your dog after a COVID-19 diagnosis, consult your veterinarian. Follow-up testing might be necessary to determine whether your dog is still testing positive for the virus before it is safe for them to interact with other people and pets.
In general, you can terminate home isolation if:
- All follow-up tests for the virus are negative.
- Your dog has no symptoms for 72 hours without medication, and
- 14-days have passed since the last positive test result.
How To Protect Your Dog if You Become Ill
Given the known spread of COVID-19 from pet owners to pets, if you or a family member test positive for COVID-19, avoid interacting with pets and other animals in the home. In addition:
- Ask a healthy household member to take care of your dog while you are sick.
- Avoid physical interactions with your pet, including petting, kissing, or snuggling.
- Do not allow your dog to kiss or lick your face.
- Do not share a bed with your dog while you are sick.
- If you must look after your dog while ill, put on a cloth face covering and thoroughly clean your hands before and after contact.
If you test positive for the novel coronavirus and your dog contracts it, call your veterinarian and explain the situation. Do not bring your dog to the veterinarian yourself if you are sick. If another household member cannot take your dog to the veterinarian, arrange a telemedicine consultation for your pet to discuss a care and treatment plan.
Should I Have My Dog Tested for Coronavirus?
You do not need to have your dog tested for COVID-19 unless they are showing signs and were knowingly exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. If you have questions or concerns or notice a change in your pet’s health, feel free to call Penny Paws Animal Clinic for guidance.
How Can I Keep My Dog Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Since pets are family members, be sure to include them in your household safety plan during the COVID-19 pandemic. It might mean protecting your dog from exposure to the virus by keeping them at home. You may also need to minimize or eliminate contact with animals and strangers outside your household.
Include pets in your efforts to avoid public gatherings, including delaying visits to dog parks. While walking your dog, keep them leashed at least six feet away from other people and animals.
If you or a family member contracts COVID-19, it is best to follow the CDC’s guidelines and isolate yourself from your dog and household members. Observe a minimum six-foot distance from your dog, if possible. If you have to look after a pet while sick, wear a face covering and practice regular hand washing techniques.
Social distancing, hand washing, and face coverings provide the best combination of preventative measures in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in people and animals.
Service and Therapy Dog Handlers
Can dogs get coronavirus through therapy or service dog work? We know it is possible for dogs to contract SARS-CoV-2 from people they are in close contact with. Although these cases are rare, service and therapy dog handlers will need to monitor the current risk of COVID-19 in their area to determine which precautions are necessary for their individual dogs.
Penny Paws Animal Clinic Is Here to Help
If your dog contracts COVID-19 or shows signs of the virus, Penny Paws Animal Clinic is your hope on the horizon. You can find comfort in knowing that COVID-19 is rare in pets and those who do contract it typically exhibit mild symptoms or are completely asymptomatic. Most pets recover quickly and there have been no confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 in dogs.
As research progresses, information regarding the novel coronavirus in pets continues to evolve. If you have concerns about your pet’s health and the potential impact of COVID-19, contact Penny Paws Animal Clinic today. Our veterinary team is happy to offer advice, medical treatment, and guidance to help you keep your pets and household safe and healthy.