Q: Can my pet get COVID-19?
A: The short answer is yes; however, it appears to be rare. There are a few confirmed cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 in animals. Most of those animals had close contact with a person that had COVID-19. Risk of spread from animals to humans is considered to be low.
If you have COVID-19, you should isolate yourself from animals in your household, as well as humans. Avoid activities with your pets such as petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked and sharing food or bedding. If you must care for your animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after interacting with them, and wear a cloth face covering.
Most pets with COVID-19 did not show any sign of illness; the few that did all had a mild disease and none have died. Pets sick with COVID-19 may have fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, runny nose, eye discharge, vomiting and/or diarrhea. If you think your pet has COVID-19, isolate them and contact your veterinarian. There is no evidence that viruses, including COVID-19, can spread via your pet's fur, so DO NOT wipe or bathe your pet with any disinfectants not intended for use on animals. Doing so could make your pet very sick or kill them.
If your pet tests positive for COVID-19, it is important to use precautions to protect the rest of your household. Keep them in a designated "sick room," and avoid contact with the pet as much as possible. Wash your hands immediately after contact with them, and keep them away from other pets. Do not put a cloth face covering on your pet, as this is dangerous for them. Again, the risk of spreading COVID-19 from animals to humans is low; there is no reason to abandon or surrender pets that have been confirmed positive with the virus that causes COVID-19, but these precautions should still be taken.
The CDC recommends that pet owners limit their pet's interactions with people outside their household. Keep cats indoors, stay at least 6 feet away from others when walking your dog, and avoid public places where large numbers of people gather. If you choose to bring your dog to a dog park, try to limit your dog's interactions with people outside of your household and disinfect anything taken to the park with you (leashes, toys, water bowls). Treat your pets like you would treat your human family members to protect them from possible infection.
Dr. Paul M. Hendricks is health officer for the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.