As concerns about coronavirus increase, more pet owners are starting to not only worry about their own health and that of elderly relatives but for their whole family, dogs and cats included.
And so we asked for veterinary expertise on whether dogs and cats can get coronavirus from humans (or other animals) or even pass it along if they come into contact with someone who has it. We have tried to answer the most common questions we've received from concerned dog owners about the implications of coronavirus and dogs. If you have any questions of your own, please use the comments form at the end of the article and we'll try to get them answered for you.
Can dogs get coronavirus?
The short answer is no, not the form in the news currently - Covid-19. And when we asked the pet expert if dogs and cats can pass Covid-19 along as carriers, we received the same answer.
But this simplifies a rapidly evolving situation that's not quite so simple in reality, so let's expand and explore some of the biggest concerns.
There are many different types of coronavirus and some can cause disease in different species of animals. But these strains are not the same as Covid-19 and do not spread to, or cause disease in people, as we understand it.
"There's currently no evidence to suggest that pets can be carriers of Coronavirus or can become ill from it themselves," Dr Samantha Gaines, RSPCA animal welfare expert told us.
This is echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US who at the time of writing says, "In the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time.
"CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19."
On the topic of different types of coronavirus (not Covid-19), the CDC explains:
"Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause cold-like illnesses in people, while others cause illness in certain types of animals, such as cattle, camels, and bats. Some coronaviruses, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals and do not infect humans."
On these different types of Coronavirus (not Covid-19), Dr Gaines explains, "These different coronaviruses can cause disease in the specific species they infect, usually this manifests gastrointestinal signs which can be managed with supportive treatment. There is no risk to humans or other species."
Can dogs act as a transmitter for Covid-19?
Something still concerning dog owners is whether pets can be transmitters if they come into contact with someone who is self-isolating or may have it (for example, someone pats a dog's fur) as it is now suspected that this may be at the heart of how and why the elderly dog in Hong Kong was diagnosed with Covid-19 in March, before being quarantined and released after testing negative to having the virus.
Talking about this, the British Veterinary Association explains, "Further testing, including gene sequencing, suggested that the dog had a low-level of infection and that this is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission. The dog did not show any clinical signs of disease and following repeated testing and negative results, was released from quarantine.”
So, what can you do if you are concerned your pet has been patted by someone diagnosed with the virus or who potentially has Covid-19 when they came into contact with them?
Let's be clear, the OIE says that “There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick.” But you should wash practice good hygiene washing hands because we are still learning how this virus is transmitted.
Dr Gaines says, “Pet owners who are not showing any signs of coronavirus themselves or living with anyone who has symptoms should continue to interact with their pets but adopt good hygiene practices including washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after touching them, their food, toys and bedding. This is good advice at any time and not specific to the Coronavirus situation. Avoid being kissed or licked and sharing food with your pet.”
The Blue Cross adds a note of caution around using certain products around pets, adding, "Pet owners regularly using hand sanitiser should remember that many cleaning products are toxic to pets and it is best to avoid stroking and handling your pets straight after using sanitisers.
"When cleaning, remember that pets should be kept away from areas being disinfected until completely dry and prevent pets going near cleaning buckets and cleaning products. Cats in particular will lick their paws and fur almost immediately if they feel unclean and such products can potentially burn their mouth, tongue or throat."
As this is an evolving situation, should new advice for dog owners or evidence become available, we will update and answer here. In the meantime, we've enclosed some additional advice below for pet owners concerned about self-isolating or what to do if they've recently been diagnosed with coronavirus.
Advice for dog owners who are self-isolating
If you are self-isolating you may be wondering what impact this should have on your pet's routine (regular dog walks or access outdoors for cats, for example). We asked Dr Gaines to share some advice.
"Although you won’t be able to take your dog beyond your house or garden for exercise if you’re self-isolating, there are lots of ways to keep your dog happy and healthy within the confines of your own home.
"Mental stimulation is a great way to keep your dog entertained and occupied so you can keep your dog happy by replacing exercise with other activities until you are able to take them back out for their usual walks.
"Remember your dog will still need to go outside to use the toilet so make sure they get regular access to the garden to potter, sniff and wee."
What about cats?
"Cats still need access outdoors or to a clean litter tray and outdoor cats can go in and out as normal."
Caring for your dog if you have been diagnosed with Covid-19
The RSPCA suggests that you inform your local health protection team that there is a pet in the household. They will liaise with the relevant animal health authorities.
Currently, the advice is to restrict contact with pets as much as possible as a precautionary animal health measure.
Dr Gaines adds, "If you do need to interact with your pet, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
"If your pet shows signs of ill health, please do not take them to the vet. Contact your local health protection team for advice.
"Remember these are precautionary measures and there is currently no evidence that pets can spread coronavirus or become unwell."