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An expert tells us how at-risk our pets are of getting sick

You're not the only one wondering "Is my cat in danger of getting sick?"

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

Lions and tigers and COVID, oh my!

This month, five tigers and three African lions at the Bronx Zoo and two house cats contracted the coronavirus, and now this week, a dog in North Carolina has been diagnosed with it. So what does this mean for pet owners?

Our furry friends are capable of getting and carrying the disease, but there's much more to know about how to prevent it from happening and how to handle it if your pet shows symptoms. We asked Dr. Erin Katribe, the medical director of Best Friends Animal Society, some basic questions we have about how we can protect our cats and ourselves:

How at-risk are our pets?

The risk is low. "While we have seen a very small number of cases globally of cats or other animals becoming naturally infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19), the risk of animals becoming infected appears to be very low," Dr. Katribe says. "We have only seen a handful of animal cases worldwide and that’s a tiny fraction of the huge numbers of human cases."

Is there anything we can do to lessen their risk?

"Because there does appear to be a small risk, the recommendation is that if you are sick, you should separate yourself and avoid close contact with your pets just as you would do with other humans," Dr. Katribe says.

The CDC also says:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least six feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather. 

What have been the symptoms of cats who have gotten COVID-19?

The symptoms "have been mild to moderate respiratory symptoms such as a cough, similar to symptoms seen in people," Dr. Katribe says. "All of the animal cases reported are either currently recovering or have recovered completely. Thus far, the disease in animals appears to be mild."

What should we do for our pets if we see these symptoms?

Contact a veterinarian. 

"If there is a chance of possible exposure to COVID-19 from a positive person or a sick person, please discuss this exposure with your veterinarian, as this may play a role in determining if the pet should be seen at a clinic – if the cat has been exposed, it is also possible that the owner has also been exposed, and that could pose a risk to the clinic staff," Dr. Katribe says. "If you do need to take your pet to a clinic for any reason, follow all of the CDC’s recommended guidelines for masks and social distancing when you go out into public." 

Best Friends also offers remote access to veterinary consultation services through their Vet Access app

What should I do about my pet if I have it?

"It is important to practice social distancing and create a plan for the continued maintenance of the pets in your care if you’re unable to leave the house, too sick to function at home, or become hospitalized," Dr. Katribe says.

Best Friends has an entire page devoted to ways to prevent your pet from being stranded when its caretaker is sick.

If you think you have it, minimize physical contact with your pet, identify an emergency pet caregiver who can look after your animal while you're sick or in the case you need to be hospitalized and keep any toys, bowls and pet items clean and apart from the room you're staying in. 

The CDC says that if you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

It helps to prepare ahead of time by having a two-week supply of your pet's food, medication, and necessities like kitty litter at home and if you're an essential worker or in a situation where you're at high risk for contracting it, consider boarding your pet.

Can I catch it from my dog or cat?

Most likely not.

"There is no reason to panic about your pet giving you COVID-19 as there have been no reported cases of it spreading from pet to person," said Dr. Katribe says.

Can I still pet them?

Is it safe to pet my dog?

Petting a dog’s fur, for example, is a low risk, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"And there’s science behind that: 'The virus survives best on smooth surfaces, such as countertops and doorknobs," AVMA’s Chief Veterinary Officer Gail Golab said, according to the American Kennel Club. "Porous materials, such as pet fur, tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract them through touch."

Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC, says to keep washing your hands after touching your dog or cat.

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