When the World Health Organization first declared Covid-19 a pandemic in March 2020, it wasn’t long before people started freaking out about their pets.
Scary reports surfaced such as the first dog to test positive for Covid-19 – although it is not clear whether Covid-19 was the cause of death – or reports of mass outbreaks on mink farms that caused many pet owners to abandon themselves asking if they are furry friends could get seriously infected by Covid-19.
But how has our understanding of Covid-19 infection in pets changed since we’ve been in Covid-19 for more than a year?
For starters, we can now answer a variety of questions about Covid-19 and pets, including:
- Whether humans can infect animals (and vice versa)
- Transmission between humans and animals
- How pets get infected and whether they carry Covid-19 antibodies
- Whether pets are likely to get seriously ill
- Which animals are most susceptible to Covid-19?
- How we can protect our furry friends from Covid-19
And a study recently published last month in the journal PLOS One could shed even more light and reveal new information about Covid-19 infection in cats and dogs in Brazil.
Can pets get Covid-19?
A vet wears a protective face mask when petting a cat. Getty
The short answer: yes. We have known since the beginning of the pandemic that cats and dogs can be infected with SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
Over time, research found that cats are quite susceptible to SARS-Cov-2, although dogs appeared to be a little less susceptible.
“Dogs can be infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, studies under laboratory conditions have shown that dogs are less susceptible to infections than cats and fewer dogs than cats from Covid-19 households tested positive for antibodies,” says Margaret J. Hosie, a professor of comparative virology at the University of Glasgow who has researched Covid-19 in pets, tells Inverse.
Dorothee Bienzle, professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph, who has carried out research on Covid-19 infection in cats and dogs, agrees. Bienzle says Inverse, “Mild illnesses seem to be more common in cats than in dogs.” Their research found that some pets were experiencing Covid-like respiratory symptoms around the same time their owners were infected.
Can pets give people Covid-19?
In September 2020, it was also reported that in Wuhan – the world’s first major Covid-19 outbreak – more cats were infected with Covid-19 than previously thought.
However, according to Bienzle, there is “no evidence” that dogs or cats can transmit the virus to humans or other pets. This fact has remained unchanged since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, the opposite – transmission from humans to pets – is occurring and may occur more frequently than previously thought.
According to the recent PLOS One study that tested 39 pets for Covid-19, 28 percent of the dogs and 40 percent of the cats The study also became infected with SARS-CoV-2 after its owners tested positive for the virus. The authors of the study write: “We have shown that dogs and cats that live with COVID-19 in the same household as their owners can be exposed and infected by SARS-CoV-2.”
However, Hosie isn’t so sure what the transfer rate is. “Human-to-cat transmission appears to be rare,” which makes transmission to dogs even less common. Their research only found one positive Covid-19 test from a pool of 350 breathing cat samples.
But as the evidence shows, human-to-pet transmission can and must occur, so pet owners should still be careful.
“Even so, people with COVID-19 should know that they can pass the virus on to their pets,” says Hosie.
Can pets recover from Covid-19?
Veterinarians treated a cat in the San Diego Humane Society in the early days of the pandemic. Getty
Overall, according to Bienzle, we still do not know the exact transmission rate between humans and pets.
“No clear answers on this one, but that probably depends on how sick people are – how much virus they shed on their breath / cough / sneeze and how much time the pets and people spend nearby,” she says.
However, owners find it a little easier to breathe: there is little evidence that cats or dogs are getting seriously ill.
“Serious illnesses are very rare in pets – much less common than in humans,” says Bienzle.
Even if pets get sick, they are likely to appear asymptomatic or show signs of mild illness – not severe Covid.
The study found:
- Only six of the thirteen infected pets actually showed mild symptoms
- All symptoms appeared to be reversible – meaning that long-term symptoms were unlikely in pets
- All animals that tested positive had “remarkably low viral loads,” according to the study, which made even a mild infection less likely
However, the study also notes that all pets were in fairly good health, which could be a limitation when the results are applied to older or weaker pets. Previous research suggests that older cats – like humans – are particularly at risk from Covid-19.
In addition, the study could not paint a complete picture of the length of the Covid-19 infection in the examined pets and stated: “We could not determine the duration of virus elimination and the antibody response in all animals with SARS-CoV-2 infection. ”
According to Biencel’s research, however, animals that contract SARS-CoV-2 develop antibodies that could protect them from future diseases. Around 60 percent of cats and 40 percent of dogs living with a person with Covid-19 developed antibodies, according to a study by Bienzle in September 2020.
“We have a lot more cases now, but those numbers apply,” says Bienzle.
Are pets ever vaccinated against Covid-19?
A dog is given a vaccine in a transit clinic during the Covid-19 pandemic
With many people around the world still struggling to get vaccinated, it’s hard to imagine pets’ turn to come.
“If the infection is controlled in humans, it will also be controlled in animals. There is no evidence that pets transmitted infections to humans or other pets, ”says Bienzle.
Bienzle adds, “That is why we should strive to vaccinate everyone.”
Although pets are not yet eligible for the vaccine, some other higher risk animals have already received the sting. In early 2021, great apes received a test vaccine against Covid-19 in San Diego.
“Vaccinating endangered animals in zoos that cannot be protected from infected humans is one possible consideration,” says Bienzle.
“Anyone with Covid-19 symptoms should avoid close contact with their pet, for example avoiding sleeping with their pet, kissing them or preparing their food.”
The vaccine the great apes received was just being developed for mink that suffered severe Covid-19 outbreaks on farms. Bienzle says there are legitimate concerns about animals in crowded farm conditions, such as minks, returning Covid-19 to people in a spillover event.
“We really want to avoid this through management practices – vaccinating and testing people [and] Eliminate infection under mink by clubbing and / or depopulation, ”says Bienzle.
In addition, the Russian government has just developed the first official vaccine for animals, which is expected to distribute 17,000 doses across the country, although companies from other regions may be trying to buy vaccines from Russia.
Given these updates, Hosie believes that a pet vaccine may not be entirely ruled out in the near future, which may bring peace of mind to pet owners. “It might be wise to develop SARS-CoV-2 veterinary vaccines that give pet owners peace of mind that their pets are safe from infection,” says Hosie.
Such vaccines would also eliminate the risk of pets transmitting Covid-19 to other animals or people, according to Hosie. However, Bienzle emphasizes that “the vaccination is not 100% effective in humans and therefore probably not 100% effective in animals either”.
How can you protect your pet from Covid-19?
One dog, Ziggy, wears a face mask in Los Angeles. Getty
Unfortunately, the main risk to your pet cat or dog is you. The precautions you and other people in your household take to protect yourself from Covid-19 also reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 to your pets.
“Given the value of companionship among pets such as cats, it is important to identify all risks associated with pet ownership so that appropriate control measures can be put in place to minimize the risk of transmission,” says Hosie.
The best thing you can do for your pet: get vaccinated. Bienzle says vaccinated people have lower viral loads of SARS-Cov-2, which makes them less likely to infect their pets.
Hosie agrees. “We have seen that vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus to other people when they become infected. Therefore, it is very likely that transmission to animals will also be reduced.”
The CDC recommends isolating cats and dogs from people who do not live in your household. However, as vaccination rates increase, this advice may change. It is best to keep your dog on a leash or keep cats indoors whenever possible.
If you have Covid-19 the best thing you can do is keep social distance from your pet whenever possible. The authors of the PLOS One study write “that people diagnosed with Covid-19 should avoid direct contact with their pets while they remain sick.”
Hosie agrees. “Anyone with Covid-19 symptoms should avoid close contact with their pet, for example avoiding sleeping with their pet, kissing them or preparing their food.”
However, it may not always be possible to keep your distance from your pet. In these cases, follow the same protocol that you would use when visiting a grocery store or shopping, for example.
“Physical distancing plus a mask is ideal. If physical distancing is not an option, wearing a good mask and washing your hands will reduce the likelihood of transmission, ”says Bienzle.