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You’re attending a backyard barbeque at your friend’s house. Everyone’s wearing a mask and is socially distanced. However, your friend’s dog keeps running up to you, just begging for you to pet it. What should you do?

Fortunately for your furry friend, there’s currently not any evidence that animals play a significant part in transmitting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to humans.

So, feel free to give the dog a pat on the head, but be sure to wash your hands afterward. Continue reading below to learn more about pets and COVID-19, what to do if you think your pet is sick, and more.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there’s “no evidence that animals play a significant role” in spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people. Because of this, the risk of getting COVID-19 from your pet is low.

When compared to people, the number of pets that have contracted SARS-CoV-2 is very low. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that as of June 2020, fewer than 25 pets had tested positive for the virus worldwide.

Since this time, additional cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals have been reported, but the numbers are still very low. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals.

Exactly how the virus affects animals is a continuing area of study.

Healthy animal hygiene

Even though the risk of contracting COVID-19 from your pet is very low, it’s still important to practice good hygiene around pets and other animals. This is because animals can spread other diseases to people.

Some healthy animal hygiene pointers include:

  • Wash your hands. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling an animal, its waste, or its toys. This is particularly important with some types of animals that are more likely to spread germs, such as:
    • reptiles and amphibians
    • birds
    • rodents
  • Clean up. Animals can spread germs through their urine or feces, so it’s important to clean up after your pet. This can include picking up after your dog, scooping your cat’s litter box, or regularly cleaning a bird’s cage.
  • Separate. Keep an animal’s food, toys, and supplies away from areas where you may eat or prepare food.
  • Treat bites and scratches. If you’re scratched or bitten by an animal, always clean the area promptly with soap and warm water. Seek medical attention if the wound is serious or the animal appears sick.

It’s possible that people can spread COVID-19 to their pets. In fact, most SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals have occurred when a pet is in close contact with someone that has COVID-19.

An early report of the virus in a pet was published in May of 2020. It found that 2 out of 15 dogs living in households with confirmed cases of COVID-19 had tested positive for the virus. Neither dog had any symptoms of COVID-19.

Additional reports have followed. These include reports of two cats and a dog that had been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and contracted the virus. All animals had only mild symptoms.

A 2020 study tested pets’ exposure to SARS-CoV-2. A total of 47 animals from households with confirmed COVID-19 were tested for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Antibodies were detected in 10 animals (21.3 percent), 8 cats, and 2 dogs.

The number of pets that have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 is currently very low. Many pets that have contracted the virus don’t have symptoms of COVID-19. Additionally, no pets have died from COVID-19.

COVID-19 symptoms in pets

According to the CDC, when symptoms do occur, they’re typically mild and include:

  • fever
  • appearing sluggish or lethargic
  • coughing or sneezing
  • shortness of breath
  • runny nose
  • eye discharge
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

If you think that your pet has COVID-19, call your veterinarian to discuss next steps. Many vets will offer phone or telemedicine consultations during the pandemic. Avoid taking your pet to the veterinarian yourself if you currently have COVID-19.

COVID-19 tests are available for pets, but routine testing isn’t recommended at this time. Your veterinarian may request a test if your pet has symptoms of COVID-19 and has been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

Caring for a pet with COVID-19

Most pets that have become ill with COVID-19 have had mild symptoms and can be cared for at home. If your pet has tested positive for COVID-19, do the following:

  • Keep your pet at home. Avoid taking your pet to public spaces, such as dog parks, pet day cares, or groomers. If you don’t have a private backyard, walk your dog on a leash and keep 6 feet away from others.
  • Isolate your pet. Keep your pet isolated in a separate room from other people and animals in your home. Try to limit contact with your pet as they recover and wear a mask when you care for them.
  • Clean and disinfect. Continue to regularly clean up your pet’s waste, wearing gloves as you do so. Disinfect any bowls or toys, cleaning with warm water afterward. Always wash your hands afterward.
  • Launder soft items. It’s safe to clean your pet’s bedding or stuffed toys with the rest of your laundry. The combination of warm water and laundry detergent is enough to kill the virus.
  • Monitor symptoms. Carefully keep track of your pet’s symptoms. Contact your veterinarian promptly if you notice that:
    • a new symptom has appeared
    • symptoms have gotten worse
    • your pet is having trouble breathing

It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions for when your pet can be around other people and animals again. Generally, this is when both of the following are true:

  1. Your pet hasn’t shown symptoms of COVID-19 for at least 72 hours.
  2. It’s been at least 14 days since your pet’s last positive test or a follow-up test is negative.

You may be wondering what steps you can take to help protect your pet from COVID-19. Below are some do’s and don’ts to be aware of:

Reduce your pet’s interactions with people outside of your household. This can also include limiting or avoiding trips to the dog park, pet day care, and the groomer.Put a mask on your pet. This can impact their ability to breathe.
Aim to avoid crowded public places. When walking your dog, use a leash and try to keep at least 6 feet away from others.Bathe or wipe your pet with any type of disinfectant product. There’s no evidence that pets carry the virus on their skin or fur. Additionally, these products can be harmful to your pet if they ingest them.
Keep cats indoors.Let dogs roam freely outside.
Wear a mask and wash your hands if you have COVID-19 and need to care for your pet.Have close contact with your pet if you’re currently sick with COVID-19. Try to have someone else in your household care for your pet as you recover.

If your pet is sick with COVID-19, protect yourself by following similar guidelines as you would if a person in your home had COVID-19. These include:

  • Wear a mask. Always wear a mask when you’re caring for a sick pet.
  • Clean regularly. Clean and disinfect household surfaces that your pet comes into frequent contact with. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists disinfectants that are effective against SARS-CoV-2.
  • Wear gloves. Use gloves when cleaning up your pet’s waste or when handling items that may be contaminated with the virus. Some examples of such items include bowls, toys, and bedding.
  • Wash your hands. Be sure to wash your hands after handling your pet, their waste, or potentially contaminated items. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water aren’t available.

There’s currently no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people. However, pets can contract the virus if they have close contact with someone with COVID-19.

There are steps you can take to prevent your pet from getting COVID-19. These include:

  • reducing contact with people outside of your household
  • avoiding crowded or public places
  • limiting contact with your pet if you have COVID-19

Many pets that are exposed to the virus have no symptoms or very mild symptoms and can recover at home. If your pet has COVID-19 symptoms and has been around someone that’s had COVID-19, contact your vet for next steps.