Can pets get coronavirus? Chief veterinarian at UC Davis says dogs, cats are likely 'dead-end hosts'

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Can pets get coronavirus? Chief veterinarian at UC Davis says dogs, cats are likely 'dead-end hosts'
It is possible that dogs and cats can contract coronavirus, but don't continue to transmit the virus, according to Dr. Jane Sykes, who is the Chief Veterinary Medical Officer of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Dog parks across hard-hit Santa Clara County remain desolate during the coronavirus pandemic.

The shutdown of dog parks is a saving grace as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announce COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations.

The development fuels the agency's push to pet owners, that their pets should also practice social distancing.

RELATED: Coronavirus tips: Social distancing applies to pets too, CDC says

"Oddly enough, I'm not worried about it," San Jose resident and pet owner, Eric Rude told ABC7 News. "But I stay away from other people's pets and I don't pet them."

Adrianna Royal called the news, "Pretty concerning- just because there's so much mystery behind it. I guess there aren't a lot of answers at this point."

So the CDC is giving pet owners the following guidelines:

  • 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 6 feet (2 meters) from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

RELATED: Family dog tests positive for COVID-19 in North Carolina

In North Carolina, a pug named Winston is first dog in the U.S. to contract COVID-19. Researchers believe he got the virus from his owners.

"His symptoms were mild," Winston's owner, Dr. Heather McLean told reporters. "Pugs are a little unusual in that they cough and sneeze in a very strange way. So, it almost seems like he was very 'gaggy.' There was one day when he didn't want to eat his breakfast, and if you know pugs you know they love to eat. So that seemed very unusual."

Several members of Winston's human family had previously tested positive for COVID-19. On April 1, the family joined a new study conducted by Duke University.

According to experts, Winston the pug's positive test results are rare.

Dr. Jane Sykes is the Chief Veterinary Medical Officer of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

"It's probably likely that dogs and cats are what we call 'dead-end hosts,'" Dr. Sykes told ABC7 News. "That they don't continue to transmit onwards, but we don't know for sure at this point in time."

She said Winston's diagnosis provides another example of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from people to animals.

RELATED: Can your dog or cat get coronavirus? Here's what veterinarian says about pets and COVID-19

"Hong Kong was routinely testing dogs and cats that were in contact with people that had COVID-19, and quarantining them in separate facilities," Sykes explained. "So they detected infections in two dogs and a cat."

She added, the three animals did not show any respiratory illness.

Regarding instances where animals actually showed signs of respiratory issues, Sykes added, "Two cats in New York recently tested positive, also in conjunction with respiratory signs. And now this dog."

She said there are two very distinct type of pet owners, with relation to COVID-19- a person with COVID-19 who has a pet, and someone who's healthy and has a pet.

CDC guidelines recommend:

If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), you should restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would with people. Until we know more about this virus, people sick with COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets and other animals.

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • 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.

If you are sick with COVID-19 and your pet becomes sick, do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself. Call your veterinarian and let them know you have been sick with COVID-19. Some veterinarians may offer telemedicine consultations or other plans for seeing sick pets. Your veterinarian can evaluate your pet and determine the next steps for your pet's treatment and care.

"For people who are healthy and not suspecting COVID-19, then those people should definitely enjoy the human-animal bond as usual. Just practice normal hand hygiene when they're with their pets. Normal precautions, like not sharing food dishes with them, or allowing them to lick them in their face," Sykes explained.

She said for those who are immunocompromised, having your dog sleeping in bed with you isn't great practice.

"There are other infectious diseases that can be transmitted from dogs and cats to immunocompromised people in particular, in those circumstances," Dr. Sykes added.

RELATED: New York cats are 1st pets in US to test positive for COVID-19

Promising news, Sykes said, "There is no evidence that this coronavirus can be transmitted from pets to humans, and there was also no evidence that the original SARS-CoV from 2003 could be transmitted from pets to humans- no examples of that."

Sykes told ABC7 News, despite the fact that there are a handful of animals testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, "There are major diagnostic laboratories in the U.S. that have now tested more than 6,000 dogs and cats, from all over this country- from other impacted countries since the outbreak began- and all of those animals have tested negative."

According to Sykes, experts from around the world are studying the frequency of infection in pets and are working to get a better understanding of exposure in pets, and other animals.

"There's probably going to be other animals as well that we'll see infected," she said. "We're learning new things every week."

She said the important thing to keep in mind, "Pets are an extremely unlikely source of infection for people."

Sykes added, "Pets bring so many positive benefits. They bring mental health benefits, they reduce blood pressure, and they decrease the risk of cardio-vascular disease. They're good for kids' self-esteem, and so people should focus on that, rather than being afraid of this virus coming from pets."

For full CDC guidelines for pet owners, click here.

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