Coronavirus and pets

Dr. Lea Fistein holds Roo outside the Animal Clinic-Galveston, 701 Broadway in Galveston, on March 25. Research indicates while pets can contract COVID-19, they cannot spread it to humans.


Most people know to keep their distance from each other to avoid spreading coronavirus, but some worry they should be taking precautions around their pets, too.

Although people should exercise some degree of caution when handling their pets, animal owners should not panic — there’s no evidence pets can contract COVID-19 or spread it to their humans, said Debra Zoran, a professor of medicine in the department of small animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M University at College Station.

There’s no evidence of people becoming ill with coronavirus because of transmission from a cat or dog, Zoran said.

“With many thousands of cases diagnosed around the world, this type of transmission has not yet been shown to happen, which tells us that it is extremely rare if it happens at all,” Zoran said.


Part of the worry about pets and COVID-19 might have been caused by a report about dogs in Hong Kong, Zoran said.

Two dogs in Hong Kong, whose owners were sick with COVID-19, tested positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus, but did not get sick with COVID-19, the illness, Zoran said. The dogs likely got the virus in their noses or mouths by being around when the owner was coughing or sneezing or by licking the owner, Zoran said.

People should understand that COVID-19 is the illness that people get from coronavirus, but SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the coronavirus, she said.

The dogs could theoretically transport the virus to a healthy person, Zoran said.

“As far as we can tell, that is a very, very unlikely occurrence, but it could happen,” Zoran said.

If someone tests positive for coronavirus and lives with other people, they should try to take caution around their pets, said Dr. Lea Fistein at The Animal Clinic, 701 Broadway in Galveston.

“They shouldn’t be kissing the animal or having close contact with the animal,” Fistein said.

No reports have emerged about pets or livestock becoming ill or spreading coronavirus in the United States, according to the World Health Organization.


Whereas there’s no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted to or from animals, it’s a good idea to wash your hands both before and after direct contact with pets and their food, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Pets who have been in contact with a sick person should get a bath with normal pet shampoo and the person doing that should wear gloves, goggles and a mask, Zoran said.

“Once a pet is out away from the sick person and gets a bath, they are safe to handle and provide care for,” Zoran said.

People should takes animals to the shelter only as a last resort, Fistein said.

“Unless you’re so sick you’re going to be hospitalized, I think you should try to take care of your dog yourself,” Fistein said.

People should absolutely take care of their pets, Zoran said. There’s no need to panic or give up pets, she said.

“Pets can be a huge comfort to people during these trying times, so we do not want people separated from them,” Zoran said. “We just want them to take the steps we are all taking to reduce our exposure and risk.”


And for many people, now is a good time to help foster pets, said Caroline Dorsett-Pate, executive director of the Galveston Island Humane Society.

“You’re at home. You’ve got kids. They’re bored,” Dorsett-Pate said, adding that a dog or cat to play with could help ease the boredom.

It’s also a good time for students, who are usually busy, to foster, she said.

People who have been thinking about adopting an animal might also consider now to do so, Dorsett-Pate said.

“You’ve got time at home to help them acclimate,” Dorsett-Pate said.

Now could be a critical time to foster or adopt pets to help the humane society clear out some room, as well, Dorsett-Pate said.

“Now, in the economic downturn, people are going to be in dire straits,” Dorsett-Pate said. After hurricanes, pets are the first things people give up and this, unfortunately, could be a similar situation, she said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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