Auburn veterinarian discusses pets and COVID-19, gives advice for keeping them healthy

Published: April 06, 2020
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The information in this Q&A is based on relevant data as of the date of publication and will be updated as new information is received.

Dr. Ellen Behrend, acting director of Auburn University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospitals and the Joezy Griffin Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Clinical Sciences, breaks down recent news about pets infected with COVID-19 and offers best practices for keeping pets and yourself healthy during the pandemic.

Can pets become infected with COVID-19?

Three pets outside of the U.S. have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and all lived with humans that also tested positive. Of the three positive cases of suspected human-to-animal transmission, the two dogs never showed any symptoms of COVID-19 and never became sick. The third, and most recent positive COVID-19 result in a pet, is a cat in Belgium that developed gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms about one week after the owner began showing symptoms of COVID-19. It is not known if the virus found in any of these animals was alive or dead, or if the cat coincidentally tested positive for the coronavirus while sick with another problem that caused the symptoms. Over the weekend, a tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo tested positive as well. It is also not clear if animals are able to transmit the virus, or if they are merely carriers. We do know that positive tests are neither concerning nor surprising based on previous infectious disease behavior in humans and animals. More research is needed before reliable determinations can be made about human-to-animal and animal-to-human COVID-19 transmission. Most importantly, we know this is yet another reason to prioritize basic infection control measures. Bottom line—wash your hands after interaction with your pets and physically distance yourself as you would a person you are living with.

How should I care for my pet if I become infected with COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19, let your doctor know that you have pets in your home. Contact with animals should be restricted while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would distance yourself from other people. When possible, another member of your household should care for your pets and you should avoid unnecessary contact with your pets, especially while you are showing symptoms. If you have tested positive and are the only person available to care for your pet or service animal, take care to wash your hands before and after caring for the animal and, if accessible, wear a facemask while interacting until you are medically cleared to return to your normal activities.

What do I do if I become infected and my pet gets sick?

If your pet begins to show some symptoms of COVID-19, contact your veterinarian for advice. If you become infected and your pet gets sick also, keep the animal in the house, isolate the pet from people and other animals and practice good hygiene when interacting with your pet—limit touching, don’t snuggle, don’t put your face near your pet’s face, wash your hands afterwards, etc. Be careful with your pets, practice some distancing and extra hygiene until you are both healthy, but do not abandon them.

Can animal vaccines protect me against COVID-19?

The short answer is “no.”  There are coronavirus vaccines made for animals, but they do not protect against the specific type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

What are best practices for keeping my pets healthy?

Use the same distancing practices for your pets as you use for yourself. Limit contact with people, especially people with fever or respiratory symptoms. Don’t take pets into crowded areas and maintain a distance from others when walking your dog. If a place is safe for you, it should be safe for your pets.

Where can I find information about COVID-19 and my pets?

For accurate, up-to-date pet-related information about COVID-19, access the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov and the American Veterinary Medical Association website at www.avma.org.

About Dr. Ellen Behrend:

Dr.  Ellen Behrend is acting director of Auburn University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospitals and the Joezy Griffin Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Clinical Sciences. She is board-certified in small animal internal medicine by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Her awards include the Daniels Award for Excellence in Small Animal Endocrinology, Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and three times the Pfizer/Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award.

Media Contact

To arrange an interview with our expert, please contact Charles Martin, at marticd@auburn.edu.