What You Need to Know (Vet-Approved Content)


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it “has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19.” However, although pets probably cannot become sick, they could serve as a “conduit” of viral infection. We explain more about this below. Photo: Lucia Romero

COVID-19 is the name of the flu-like illness that is currently affecting and scaring people all over the world. This illness is caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

It is being called a “novel” coronavirus simply because it is new and was not previously identified. That also means we don’t know everything there is to know about it yet.

There are multiple human coronaviruses that we have known about and many other coronaviruses that affect pets and other animals. The virus that causes COVID-19 most likely came from an animal, possibly a bat or a pangolin, at a Wuhan wildlife market on mainland China. This new coronavirus has nothing to do, however, with the coronaviruses that affect our pets.

Questions People With Pets May Have About the Coronavirus

Can I give COVID-19 to my dog or cat?

There has been one case in Hong Kong where a pet dog tested positive for low levels of viral material and most likely got it from the woman who cared for the dog. This little dog has no symptoms and is not sick. We know little else about this case. The amount of virus in the dog is weakening over time as the dog remains in quarantine.

As the fact-checking site Full Fact has pointed out, some experts question whether the dog ever really had the virus at all — or if the dog had “simply licked contaminated surfaces in the home,” setting off false-positive test results.

Our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that, to date, it “has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19.”

Even so, the CDC recommends that you restrict contact with pets and other animals if you are sick with COVID-19.

Can I get COVID-19 from my dog or cat?

While it is most likely that the COVID-19 virus came from a wild animal in China, there is no evidence, according to the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), that pets can spread the illness the way it is spread from human to human.

The CDC says, “There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus.”

In other words, if your dog sneezes on you or licks your face, the experts strongly believe you can’t get this virus from that as you would human-to-human contact.

Be aware, however, that pets could serve as a conduit of infection. This means pets could have the virus on their bodies if they have been living in an environment that is heavily contaminated with the virus. Just as the virus can be on a door knob, your pet could have virus on their coat. In theory, that means you could contract the virus if you touched them and then put your hand on your face or in your mouth. The risk of this happening is believed to be low.

You are continually being told to wash your hands and don’t touch your face in order to protect yourself from contracting the virus. Please be cautious and wash your hands after touching your pets, particularly in an infected household.

Are canine and feline coronaviruses different from the COVID-19 virus?

Yes. Canine coronavirus causes diarrhea in dogs only. There is a vaccine for dogs to protect them from canine coronavirus. That vaccine does not protect and cannot be used against the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

Cats with the feline coronavirus are usually asymptomatic, have mild diarrhea or rarely develop a serious coronavirus disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). This is a cat-specific coronavirus and has nothing to do with COVID-19.

How can I care for my pet while I am sick?

If you are sickened by the coronavirus, the CDC is not saying that you must quarantine yourself away from your pet, but the agency does recommend restricted exposure to your pets until we know more about this virus.

  • Avoid close contact with your pet, including “petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.”
  • Whenever possible, have another member in the household be the primary caretaker.
  • If you must be in contact with pets while you are sick with COVID-19, “wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a face mask.” This will lessen the degree of virus in the environment.

Good hygiene also protects you from common bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can be transmitted to you from your pets. The last thing you need if you are already sick is to be infected with another disease.

Don’t Make Your Dog Wear a Mask

A mask on your dog will not protect them or you from contracting or spreading the virus. It will only upset your dog.

Face masks should be used by people who are sick or have the virus. The Journal of the American Medical Association puts it this way:

“Face masks should not be worn by healthy individuals to protect themselves from acquiring respiratory infection because there is no evidence to suggest that face masks worn by healthy individuals are effective in preventing people from becoming ill.”

Avoid Feeling Panic

Once the news was out that a dog tested positive in Hong Kong, people panicked.

The Hong Kong government recommended quarantining pets in households where someone was infected. People tried to hide their pets, place them in other households, even get them out of the country. Some people actually considered euthanasia.

On mainland China, the panic was much worse.

Although reports are difficult to verify, it is clear that thousands of pets in China were left in apartments and houses when people were quarantined or prevented from returning home due to travel restrictions. Many people also abandoned their pets for fear of transmission. Unsubstantiated reports also describe unnecessary killing of pets.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic will get worse in the United States before it gets better, there should be no threat to your pet.

This video explains more about the coronavirus and pets:

Silver Linings in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Concern is mounting daily in this country as the confusion over the coronavirus and the confirmed cases mount.

This is the time to cherish your pets, not consider them dangerous or in danger.

If you are watching the news, it’s easy to get extremely stressed or, yes, even feel a bit of panic. The United States is behind in testing, and all experts are saying things will get worse before they get better. As we test more people, there will be many more positives.

This stress and worry is bad for your health. It can lower your immune response.

And you know what? Your pets are a great stress reliever. They love your attention, and you need their love right now more than ever!

Social distancing and stepping up personal hygiene are the biggest things you can do to protect yourself. Many of you might be spending more time working from home or simply being at home. A small silver lining in all of this is that you can spend more time with your pets!

If you have COVID-19 or think you do, enjoy your pets from a safe distance and step up your hygiene around them.

For the well-being of all animals, this horrible spread of coronavirus from the illegal selling of wildlife might finally put a permanent end or greatly decrease the wildlife trade as we know it.

Consider a Contingency Plan

Think ahead in case you become sick.

Call your doctor and discuss your symptoms before you rush off to a medical office or to an emergency room. Remember that most healthy people who contract COVID-19 can and should remain at home and recover. It is true that symptoms are often no worse than a common or bad cold.

“Some people infected with the virus have no symptoms,” reports Harvard Medical School. “When the virus does cause symptoms, common ones include low-grade fever, body aches, coughing, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat. However, COVID-19 can occasionally cause more severe symptoms like high fever, severe cough and shortness of breath, which often indicates pneumonia.”

In many households, a family member will be able to attend to you and your pet’s needs while you recover. If you live alone, however, you and your pet may need a little extra help, so try to think about this now without panic.

Friends and neighbors, family members, and pet lovers can band together and get us through this.


vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed March 13, 2020.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.

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