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Coronavirus and Pets: Q&A With a Veterinarian


Today, Veterinarian Dr. Dan Smith answered questions, live, on our Facebook page. We’ve collected some of the most pertinent responses and shared them below to keep you informed. Have more questions? Let us know in the comments.


Updated March 31, 2020:It was recently reported that a house cat has been infected with COVID-19. We asked Dr. Smith to comment:

The most recent update is that a cat in Belgium was tested positive for coronavirus after the owner was also tested positive. The cat was showing some respiratory and GI signs, which are also seen as symptoms of COVID-19. However, it is unclear if a full battery of tests for other potential causes was performed to verify if that was the only factor causing the clinical signs.
At this time it is still thought to be rarely transmissible from humans to animals and there are no signs that it can be infectious from pets to their owners.
Thankfully, the cat was reportedly recover a few days later.

Q: I’d like to foster a dog right now, do you know of shelters in NYC that need this help?

Dr. Dan Smith (DS): I have heard reports that many people around the NYC area and the country have really chipped in during these difficult times to both adopt and foster many animals from rescue organizations and shelters. You may have to do a little calling around to see who still needs help.

[Note from Nature: Check your local shelters or Humane Society for information on fostering pets in your area!]

Can pets spread the illness (can it live on their fur and transfer via petting)

DS: It’s frustrating, but we do not know. But we know a few things– anything can serve as a “fomite” or a surface that can allow for transmission of disease. Certain surfaces allow the virus to live longer, like metal and plastics. It is though that fibrous surfaces like cloth does not allow it to live very long. There is no testing at this point to verify how it would live on pet hair, but it is more likely to act like cloth, as far as we can assume.

Is there a chance that it could be spread via a stranger petting your dog and then you touching it? Possibly, but unlikely. The most common transmission is person-to-person at this point. But I would recommend trying to avoid strangers petting your dog during this time, just in case. I know of some owners that will wipe down their dog after walks with baby wipes or pet wipes to reduce any exposure during that period.
Ultimately, the possibility is very low as far as we can tell, but just be safe.

Dogs can’t get it, right?

DS: As of now, 2 dogs have tested as “weak positives” on testing since they were in a household that had reported cases among the owners. They did not seem to get sick from it and we do not believe they are likely a source of infection to humans.

Is my dog happy that we’re all home or do you think he misses his space?

DS: We are all dealing with a disruption of our regular routines, including our pets. There will be an adjustment period for both us and your animals. I’m sure your dog is happy to be able to spend more time with you, but you may see some behavioral changes during this time as everyone adapts to the new normal.

Any creative ways to entertain my dog inside my small apartment? We are only doing very short walks at this time.

DS: This is a hard one. We’re all adjusting to new situations. You can likely take your dog on a few longer walks as long as you avoid other people during those walks. Remember: while you’re out of the house on a normal day, your dog is likely mostly sleeping, so they may just be trying to get your attention more during this time and don’t necessarily need more activity. Good luck!

Are cats at risk of catching the coronavirus?

DS: We just don’t know. Right now, the only 2 pets that have tested positive are 2 dogs in Hong Kong. There has been a drastic lack of testing because resources have been prioritized to humans during this period. There is some thought that it may be able to pass to cats, though. SARS is a very similar virus and experimentally a few cats were able to be infected during that outbreak. The good news is they showed no clinical signs and did not seem to get sick from it. So while there is a possibility, no cats have yet been found to be infected and if they were, it is suspected they will be like dogs: infected but not sick or *infectious.*

About Dr. Dan Smith:

Dr. Dan Smith is a veterinarian practicing in New York City for 7 years.  He received his undergraduate degree in Biology from Northwestern University. After school, he moved to New York City for a few years and fell in love with city life. He went on to obtain his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at St. George’s University and finished his training at Cornell University.  After finishing vet school he was awarded an internship at Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group (VERG) in Brooklyn where he developed an interest in Internal Medicine and Primary Care.  Dr. Smith has been practicing at the West Village Veterinary Hospital and Tribeca Soho Animal Hospital for over 5 years. Dr. Smith is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. Dr. Smith lives in Manhattan with his wife and mischievous cat, Chairman Meow. In his downtime, he likes to run, cook, and chase his cat around the apartment.

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