There have been a few news stories recently about human-to-animal transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, raising concerns from some pet owners about how to properly care for and safely interact with pets during social distancing. The Army Public Health Center has updated its Covid website with a number of pet-related frequently asked questions.
The first positive animal test in the U.S. was in early April, in a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Public health officials presume the cat became mildly sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. Two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong; a cat in Belgium, and more recently, two cats in New York were reported to the World Organization for Animal Health, after testing positive for the virus.
“In all cases, it is believed that the virus was transmitted to the animals after close contact with a COVID-19 positive human and animals showed very mild signs of disease,” said Lt. Col. Sara Mullaney, an APHC veterinarian and division chief for Veterinary One Health. They work with other health professionals on preventing and surveillance of animal, zoonotic and foodborne diseases.
“At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 to people or that they might be a source of infection in the U.S,” she said.
Studies are underway to investigate human-to-animal transmission in multiple animal species, said Col. Derron A. Alves, deputy director of APHC’s Veterinary Services and Public Health Sanitation Directorate. However, most of the studies, so far, have involved experimental infection of animals with the virus that don’t always reflect natural conditions, so more studies are needed to understand the infectious behavior of the virus between species.
“There are other types of coronaviruses that can make pets sick, like canine and feline coronaviruses,” said Alves. These relatively older viruses have been researched extensively, and we know they cannot infect people and are not related to the coronavirus responsible for the current COVID-19 outbreak.
In addition, because animals can spread other diseases to humans, it is always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals, like washing hands before and after feeding or petting; and maintaining good hygiene, Mullaney said. These healthy habits are especially important in immunocompromised or ill individuals most susceptible to contracting other diseases.
Answers for pet owners’ COVID-19 frequently asked questions, under pets at phc.amedd.army.mil