COVID-19 and Animals – What We Know So Far

Published by Dr. Adam Denish, Dr. Bob Sarsfield and the CVP Medical Advisory Board

Updated on May 13, 2020

The CDC recently announced a small number of companion animals, including dogs and cats, have reportedly been infected with COVID-19 after being in close contact with infected owners. At this point, there is limited available information and further studies need to be conducted to understand how animals could be affected by the virus. So far, there are no reports of any animal dying from COVID-19.

We have been closely following the developments of this issue and curating information from credible resources. Based on review of information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and other industry leaders, we would like to share what we know so far:

  • Cats and ferrets seem to be most susceptible to contracting infection of the virus from humans and other animals.
  • Although there are reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 in some animals, symptoms in animals seem to be mild and all animals without an underlying health issue have recovered. There is a report of an infected dog dying, however there were other underlying health issues with this patient.
  • At this time, we believe there is very little risk of a veterinarian contracting COVID-19 during treatment, even if the pet lives with someone who has the virus.
  • It is vital for veterinarians to continue to use the recommended PPE according to the CDC and to continue following safety protocols to prevent exposure.

The clinical spectrum of illness for COVID-19 remains largely undefined for animals and they may present with either respiratory or gastrointestinal clinical signs based on other more common coronaviruses found in animals. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal/ocular discharge
  • Diarrhea

As of today, veterinary experts and state governments do not recommend screening non-clinical pets for the virus unless recommended by a public health authority. However, we would like to offer the following guidance for those pets presenting with symptoms:

  • IDEXX Reference Laboratories has developed a real-time PCR test to detect SARS-COV-2 based on the genetic sequence in the human outbreak. This test may be considered for cats or ferrets in consultation with a public health authority when investigating respiratory disease after common issues have been ruled out.
  • An Upper Respiratory Disease Panel should be considered for those cats or dogs presenting with symptoms who reside in a COVID-19 household before testing for SARS-COV-2.
  • Ferrets and cats presenting with respiratory signs should be evaluated with an influenza virus panel first and then tested for SARS-COV-2
  • Nasal and oral swabs are the preferred mode of testing and the swab must be a plastic tipped, polyester sheath swap and must be sent in brain/heart infusion (BHI) media. Note, for the IDEXX real-time PCR test they require swabs to be submitted in dry sterile containers. For IDEXX, you can use a white blood tube with no additives.
  • We encourage checking with your state veterinarians or public health departments prior to testing for COVID-19 as some states will perform the test and are waiving the $50 specimen fee.

We strongly encourage following the CDC’s recommendations for PPE based on the history of the companion animal.

The topic of COVID-19 and animals has been covered by numerous news outlets and online media sources. Below is a list of credible resources we have discovered through our investigation of COVID-19 and animals.

As with the pandemic, how COVID-19 is affecting animals continues to evolve. We will continue to monitor this issue and will provide updates as we understand more.