Yes, You Could Give Novel Coronavirus To Your Pet—But It's Not As Bad As It Sounds

Yes, You Could Give Novel Coronavirus To Your Pet—But It's Not As Bad As It Sounds
  • Over the weekend, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for novel coronavirus.
  • Symptoms of novel coronavirus in animals vary: The tigers at the Bronx Zoo had a dry cough and loss of appetite.
  • Dogs and cats have previously come down with other strains of coronavirus, but none in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

By now, it’s common knowledge that the novel coronavirus (a.k.a COVID-19) can pass easily from human to human. But, one new case managed to surprise everyone over the weekend: A tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for novel coronavirus and six more showed symptoms of respiratory illness.

Yep, animals can contract the novel coronavirus, too. In fact, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means it is caused by an animal virus that has been picked up by humans, Richard J. Kuhn, PhD, a professor of biological sciences at Purdue University, previously told Women’s Health.

It’s believed the Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo got sick after coming into contact with an infected asymptomatic zookeeper. “It’s the first time, to our knowledge, that a [wild] animal has gotten sick from COVID-19 from a person,” Paul Calle, chief veterinarian for the Bronx Zoo, told National Geographic.

Of course, this upsetting news might make you wonder…can dogs and cats pick up COVID-19 from humans, too?And if so, could it be fatal? Let’s clear this up:

Can dogs get novel coronavirus?

Dogs usually get a different strain of the coronavirus—known as the canine coronavirus, says Dr. Samuel Geller, VMD, Lead Companion Animal Veterinarian at Quakertown Vet. Clinic. [Editor’s note: Dr. Geller is related to a Women’s Health staffer.] The primary symptom of canine coronavirus is diarrhea, which is self-remedying and rarely needs treatment, says Geller. Canine coronavirus is rarely fatal in dogs.

However, canine coronavirus is not the same thing as COVID-19. It’s worth noting that COVID-19 is just one member of a family of coronaviruses, which are known to cause respiratory infections, according to the World Health Organization.

When it comes to the COVID-19 strain, so far, two dogs in Hong Kong living with people diagnosed with COVID-19 have been reported to have been infected. One of the dogs, a 17-year-old pomeranian died. However, the dog had no symptoms and it is unlikely the virus was responsible for the death of the dog, per the South China Morning Post.

So far, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said no pets in the United States have been diagnosed with novel coronavirus. However, the CDC does believe it is possible for humans to pass COVID-19 to pets such as dogs.

Can cats get coronavirus?

Big cats, like the tigers in the Bronx Zoo, and house cats, like the one purring by your side, can get coronavirus.

Cats are susceptible to feline coronavirus (again, a totally different strain than what is spreading among people and causing the pandemic right now) per the Cornell University College of Medicine. These common strains of coronavirus aren’t serious and are often asymptomatic. Just like dogs, some cats experience mild diarrhea.

However, feline coronavirus can in some cases progress to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). This causes an intense inflammatory reaction, often in the abdomen, kidney, or brain. Once FIP develops in one or more body systems, the disease is progressive and is almost always fatal, per Cornell Feline Health Center.

So far, only two domestic cats (one in Belgium and one in Hong Kong) living with people diagnosed with COVID-19 have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. No companion kitties in the U.S. have been diagnosed. Again, there have been no reports of any pets or livestock becoming ill with COVID-19 in the U.S. However, the CDC believes it is possible for humans to transfer the virus to cats.

What are novel coronavirus symptoms in animals?

Generally it’s NBD when animals contract novel coronavirus. Bats, for example, have a super strong immune system, which prevents them from getting sick and dying.

Other animals do exhibit symptoms.

The tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo had a dry cough, similar to one of the common coronavirus symptoms humans also experience. The big cats also had decreased appetites, according to a news release from the Wildlife Conservation Society. “It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.”

Since so few dogs and cats have been formerly diagnosed with COVID-19, it’s unclear what type of symptoms they would exhibit.

Experts say you can’t contract COVID-19 from your pet.

There is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 to humans, according to the CDC. So, snuggle away with your four-legged friend.

Petting a dog’s fur is also a low risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, per the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AVMA’s Chief Veterinary Officer Gail Golab told the Washington Post, “We’re not overly concerned about people contracting COVID-19 through contact with dogs and cats. The virus survives best on smooth surfaces, such as countertops and doorknobs. Porous materials, such as pet fur, tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract them through touch.”

But, if you test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, the CDC recommends you restrict contact with your animals to avoid exposing them. That means having a healthy family member take over feeding and other animal care while you are sick. “Avoid contact with your pet including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food,” per the CDC.

    To reduce the spread of all germs, you can up your pooch’s hygiene by wiping their paws when they come in and out of the house with a paw cleaner or paw wipes.

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