A young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kitten
Barks & Mewsings

The Trupanion blog

Can Pets Get COVID? What the Science Says

By: Brianna Gunter

A Boston terrier dog sleeps next to a face mask and a thermometer.

Can dogs and cats get infected with COVID-19?

It’s a valid question for pet parents, considering the virus spreads quickly in households. Although more research on pets and COVID is still needed, multiple studies around the world since 2020 have established that animals are not immune to the virus.

Naturally, this can come as a disappointment if you have recently tested positive for COVID and just want to cuddle at home with Fido. In order to make sure you’re not putting your pet’s health at risk, it’s important to get caught up with the latest information.

How can dogs and cats contract COVID?

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, which is a larger family of viruses known to affect animals. Some of these viruses only infect specific species. However, COVID-19 is believed to have first been spread from an animal to humans, then spread around to other humans and animals. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the transmission risk between animals and humans to be low, infection does still occur in dogs and cats.

Pathology researchers from Canada’s University of Guelph discovered that felines may be more likely to contract the virus, with over 50% of cats with COVID-positive owners becoming infected (compared to under 50% of dogs). They also found that common human-pet interactions help facilitate the spread of COVID more easily.

According to the pet study, the data results “indicate relatively common transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to animals and that certain human-animal contacts—example, kissing the pet, pet sleeping on the bed—appear to increase the risk.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) keeps track of confirmed COVID cases in animals and reports that dogs and cats make up the largest percentile.

Using hand sanitizer on pets

While hand sanitizer use has become prevalent among humans in recent years thanks to the pandemic, it should never be used on pets. Not only can hand sanitizer ingredients and chemical disinfectants in general be harmful to pets (especially if ingested), but the virus is unlikely to live on animal fur or foot pads.

Symptoms of COVID in pets

Like humans, pets with COVID may or may not display symptoms. Likewise, viral infections and pet illnesses in general can vary greatly in severity. Symptoms of COVID-19 in dogs and cats include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing / shortness of breath
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal or eye discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

According to the CDC, “Of the pets that have gotten sick, most only had mild illness and fully recovered. Serious illness in pets is extremely rare.”

A brown tabby cat sits in the middle of a white bed and stares ahead.

What should I do to avoid spreading COVID to my pet?

If you’ve recently been diagnosed or tested positive for COVID, it’s a good idea to take some steps to prevent transmission to members of your household—including pets. As hard it is, try to restrict contact with your dog or cat as much as possible.

This means avoiding snuggling, kissing, or petting animals. It’s also important to wash your hands both before and after every feeding time or other interaction. Wearing a mask around pets is also a good idea.

COVID vaccines for dogs and cats

As of 2022, there are no COVID vaccines for pets approved for widespread use. That said, some progress in the area has been made. In 2021, animal pharmaceutical company Zoetis donated over 11,000 experimental COVID vaccine doses to zoos around North America for use in animals.

More recently, researchers in India announced the development of a COVID vaccine for dogs and cats that specifically targets the virus’ Delta and Omicron variants. It is unclear how many other countries will follow suit.

When to seek veterinary attention for pets with COVID

Close-up view of a white cat and brown dog together with a veterinarian.

Always consult with your veterinarian if you suspect your dog or cat has become infected with the COVID-19 virus. COVID symptoms can mimic those of other illnesses that can also vary in severity. In order to best protect your pet’s health, it’s important to get veterinary advice early on.

That said, because it is a virus that can be spread to both animals and humans, don’t just show up at the veterinary clinic or schedule an appointment without calling first. Doing so can put veterinary staff at risk. A veterinarian in Thailand diagnosed with the virus became international news in 2021, when it was reported that she had become infected after being sneezed on by a cat with COVID.

If your pet is displaying severe symptoms, call the nearest emergency animal hospital.

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A WORD FROM TRUPANION

We’re the official blog of Trupanion—chosen by veterinarians as the #1 pet insurance in America. Here you’ll find useful dog and cat care tips, interesting veterinary insights, and fun pet topics galore.

While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Our articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.

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