Are pets capable of spreading COVID-19? The SARS-CoV-2 virus, the organism responsible for the human epidemic, has been investigated in cats and dogs. Here is what we know.
“Natural SARS-CoV-2 infections, including virus isolation, among serially tested cats and dogs in households with confirmed human COVID-19” by Dr. Sarah Hamer and colleagues, found that a minority of cats and dogs got infected. Very few of them showed any symptoms.
In another study, titled, “SARS-CoV-2 infection, disease and transmission in domestic cats” by Gaudreault, et al, determined that cats became only transiently infected. They did not show the virus in their blood but it was detected in fluids from their noses and throats. These kitties developed antibodies but none of them had symptoms. In other words, had they not been tested, nobody would have suspected anything.
Veterinary pathologists, like all scientists, understand that new information will continue to sharpen our understanding of how the COVID virus behaves in animals. Current thinking is that dogs are very unlikely to have any involvement and that while cat-to-human transmission is theoretically possible, the risk is essentially nonexistent. In the broad field of biology there is much that is possible but highly improbable. Scientific conclusions should always be taken in context. They are not based on proof, rather on the weight of the evidence which, of course, can change.
One important takeaway from all of this is that we should be more concerned about catching the COVID virus from the infected human who shared it with a cat, rather than from the cat itself. Personally, I’m playing it safe. I am protecting myself from everybody outside my household. My own pets and those I care for in my work don’t worry me at all.
Mass hysteria during the influenza epidemic of 1918 was heavily influenced by rumors that spread like wildfire. Even without social media many anxious pet parents succumbed to the unsupported notion that dogs could be carriers. Beloved pets were relinquished and euthanized in hopes of sparing human lives. Pets played no part in that crisis. We don’t need to distance ourselves from them during this one either.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.