Can I Get COVID-19 From My Dog? 6 Questions About Pets and the Coronavirus Answered by Experts

A Beijing dog wears a paper cup over its mouth, Feb. 4, 2020. (GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

For most people, family health is top of mind during this pandemic. For many, that includes furry housemates like dogs, cats, rabbits, you name it.

Our animals are especially important companions now as people are forced to distance themselves from one another, and as pets like dogs motivate many of us to venture outside for some essential (socially distant) exercise.

But people still have many questions about the impact of COVID-19 on their pets, especially after the World Health Organization deleted a section on their "myth busters" webpage on March 12 that said there was "no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus."

KQED spoke with veterinarians Dr. Brian H. Bird, associate director of the UC Davis One Health Institute, and Dr. Dorrie Black of the San Francisco veterinary clinic Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services, about some common questions about COVID-19 and pets. Their answers are below, along with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, edited for length and clarity.

Can I get COVID-19 from my pet?

Dr. Brian Bird: It does not seem like a likely transmission route, but we're early on in an outbreak and we're learning more and more every day.

There is evidence that at least two dogs from Hong Kong have tested intermittently positive for the virus. These were pets of COVID-19 patients.

Were they able to shed the virus into the environment in a way that could have infected someone else? That's completely unknown.

Editor's Note: For more on the Hong Kong story, see this March 24 article from the South China Morning Post. From a Hong Kong University virologist quoted in the story: '“Neither of the two cases had the disease caused by the coronavirus. The public might have confusion, but when dogs are infected, it does not mean they have the disease or they are sick.”

CDC: At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.

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If someone coughs on my pet, could I get COVID-19 from their fur?

Dr. Dorrie Black: This is where it gets a little difficult. Technically, yes. If [someone infected with COVID-19] coughed over a dog, viruses in that droplet can survive for — and it depends on which article you read — somewhere between three-and-a-half to four hours.

So for my staff, when we receive a pet, we actually take a cloth that has been sprayed with one of the common antivirals we use, or soap and water, and we do a very gentle wipe-down of the fur, but not the animal’s face.

Dr. Brian Bird: The limited studies that are available have put [the new coronavirus] on solid surfaces and shown the virus can remain infectious for a period of hours to a couple of days. As far as I know, no one's done any controlled experiments on hair.

If people are concerned about potential exposure, you could bathe your animal in regular soap or shampoo that’s appropriate for that pet.

Can my pet get sick from COVID-19?

Dr. Dorrie Black: At this time, I feel relatively strongly that pets cannot come down with a disease associated with COVID-19. Coronaviruses do exist in pets: We have common coronaviruses in cats and dogs that cause respiratory as well as intestinal changes. They're not novel to them, so they've adapted to them, and they’re not typically lethal at all. They're usually transient processes.

We have no evidence that COVID-19 causes disease in a dog. Even if we detected it in their blood, they're not dying of pneumonia, they're not dying of gastrointestinal disease, not at all.

Dr. Brian Bird: As far as we know, pets don't get the disease caused by the virus.

People notice when their pets are sick. With the burden of human cases that we have, I think sick pets would start getting reported. I am not aware of any uptick in the overall reports of ill pets.

CDC: CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.

Is it risky for my dog to go out with the dog walker?

Dr. Dorrie Black: I think it's OK as long as everyone is practicing what they preach. I would wipe down the leashes with peroxide, diluted bleach, or a high-alcohol concentration.

What precautions should I take when spending time with my pet?

Dr. Brian Bird: Proper hand hygiene is always a wonderful thing in this kind of outbreak. After you play with your pet, whether it's a horse or a dog or a frog, wash your hands and make sure that you're not putting any other potential pathogens in your mouth.

When walking dogs, keep them on a leash.

I tested positive for COVID-19. Should I keep a distance from my pet?

CDC: If you are sick with COVID-19, either suspected or confirmed, you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.

When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. Avoid contact with your pet including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them.