Does the SARS-CoV-2 virus (virus that causes COVID-19) infect animals?
…The virus likely originated in and animal of some kind, and has since been found in a relatively healthy dog, but we don’t know much more than that. From a transmission standpoint, this is a human disease. Whether it’s purely human or predominantly human is a lingering question. If it’s purely a human disease, we can ignore the animal side (except for their potential to be contaminated fomites, more on that below). If it’s predominantly a human disease with minor animal involvement, the focus still needs to be on people, but there are some animal aspects worth considering.
What about that dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for the COVID-19 virus?
The dog was owned by an infected person and had a series of positive tests. That’s pretty convincing evidence that it was infected. However, the tests were reportedly “weak positives” and no detectable antibody response was detected in the dog (at least not yet), supporting that this was a pretty low grade infection.
Infected vs infectious is the big question. An individual can be infected but not infectious, if they’re not producing much virus and therefore unlikely to pass the infection along. The hope is that dogs are not a great host for the virus and if infected, that they’re not infected enough to pose a risk to others.
What about cats?
Cats are still a bigger concern in this scenario because they were able to be infected by the SARS virus and could infect other cats with SARS, and this virus is similar enough that it’s reasonable to be concerned that it could infect cats as well. However there has been little testing (in fact none that we know of) of cats so far, though undoubtedly many cats have been exposed through their infected owners. Time will tell based on field study (hopefully) and probably experimental work.
Should I be worried about catching COVID-19 from my dog or cat?
No. As a disease that is at least predominantly if not purely transmitted by people, pets are going to get it from people, not the other way around. If your dog/cat is infected, it probably got it from you or one of your close contacts, and the infected person poses more of a risk to you than the dog/cat.
So, what should we think about with pets and COVID-19?
Common sense. If you’re infected, stay away from people and pets. If you’re infected and you’ve been with your pet, keep it away from others. If we keep pets from getting exposed and keep exposed pets away from people, then we reduce the risks – if there are in fact any – even further.
What about livestock?
This is another “we don’t know” topic. A recent study suggested that pigs, ferrets and cats may have cell receptors to which the COVID-19 virus can bind. The ability of the virus to infect livestock of various kinds is being investigated experimentally so more information will presumably be available in the near future. For now, the messaging is the same as for pets: if you’re infected, stay away from livestock. That means staying out of the barn, if at all possible, and having someone else care for your animals for a couple of weeks. If you are healthy but may have been exposed to COVID-19 (i.e. you are self-isolating), it is still best not to be in the barn at all, but if you must then avoid close/direct contact with the animals and practice good hygiene (e.g. covering coughs, hand hygiene) just as you would around other people.
To finish off, here’s one I get a dozen times a day…
Can pets transmit the COVID-19 virus via their haircoats?
Maybe. Haircoats are probably similar to other hand contact surfaces (but more mobile). If someone is infected and touches or coughs on their pet, it’s reasonable to assume the virus could be deposited on the coat. How long it survives there isn’t known, but it’s presumably going to be able to persist for hours, if not more. At this point, that’s one of the main reasons why we want infected people to limit contact with pets and use good hygiene.