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At least two cats and one dog in the United States have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. However, experts say this human-to-animal transmission still appears to be rare. Getty Images
  • Two cats and one dog in the United States have tested positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19.
  • Experts say it appears pets can contract the novel coronavirus from humans, although the transmission still seems to be rare.
  • They add that there’s no evidence yet that pets can transmit the virus to people.

A dog in North Carolina and two house cats from separate areas in New York state have tested positive for the virus causing COVID-19.

The cats experienced mild respiratory illnesses and all the animals are expected to make full recoveries, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While animal infections with SARS-CoV-2 worldwide remain rare, experts say the situation is evolving and more reported cases are to be expected.

“We’re still learning so much about this virus in the middle of us trying to fight the virus,” Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told Healthline.

“In the beginning, the [World Health Organization] put out guidelines saying domesticated cats are not the cause and domesticated dogs are not the cause of transmission, that’s a myth, they can’t get infected,” he said.

And now?

“The answer is that this type of information does change,” Esper said. “As we see more and more research being done, and the amount of research being done is tremendous, there are now reports of how well animals, specifically domesticated animals, can be affected by this particular virus.”

Dr. Catherine Barnette, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based veterinarian and contributor to Great Pet Care says, “While the risk of human-to-animal transmission is still considered low, a number of documented cases of transmission have occurred.”

“Here in the United States, we have had three pets [test positive] — two cats and one dog,” she told Healthline. “The infected dog and one of the cats belonged to owners who were clinically ill with COVID-19.”

“The other cat, however, didn’t come from a household with a confirmed case of COVID-19. We don’t yet know whether that cat’s owner had an asymptomatic infection, or whether the cat came in contact with an infected individual outdoors,” said Barnette.

While new questions continue to arise, precautions can be taken now to prevent the further spread of illness by those who are sick.

“People with COVID-19 are more likely to spread the virus to animals when they are in close contact,” she said. “Owners that cuddle with their pets or handle their pets’ belongings while ill are thought to be more likely to spread infection.”

If everyone in your household is healthy, experts say there’s no need to modify family behavior.

If you or another member of your household is showing signs of COVID-19, experts say you should treat your pets like you would any other family member.

“So, you separate a person who is sick with this coronavirus from the members of the family as best you can. The same goes for the pets,” Esper said.

“You should not have pets in the same room as someone who is sick because while they may not necessarily cause or get sick themselves, and we don’t see them as a conduit, we don’t necessarily want to bet the farm on that either,” Esper added.

If able, he adds it’s also preferable for any sick family members to have their own bathroom and use their own utensils.

Barnette agreed.

“The best way to protect your pets from COVID-19 is to limit their exposure to sick individuals,” she says.

“If you live alone and must care for your pets while ill, avoid close contact with them such as snuggling, kissing, etc., and wash your hands thoroughly before handing their food bowl, water bowl, and other items,” said Barnette.

“Keep cats indoors and walk dogs on a leash while keeping a distance from other people and pets,” she said.

While the research is ever-evolving, experts say the likelihood of humans contracting the novel coronavirus from their pets is low.

“Everybody’s hedging their bets, and I am one of them, saying we don’t believe that it is a predominant cause of transmission,” Esper said.

“We just don’t see animals to humans as a big way that it is spreading,” he added. “However, we do see that certain types of animals, specifically cats, can become infected with this particular virus.”

“They looked at 2,000 different animals from 35 species — dogs, cats, pigs — and found that dogs did not seem to be substantially affected,” said Esper.

However, he says, in one report, 10 percent of cats made antibodies against the virus. This is still not necessarily cause for concern, though.

Esper explains there is a difference between a pet contracting the virus and a pet spreading the virus to humans.

He says that in previous pandemics, many types of animals can contract an infection. However, this does not mean they’re infectious to humans.

“We do not know that just because they get infected that they can spread it. We do not believe that this is a major cause of spread,” he said.

“There will still be a lot of research to determine what, if any, role animals play in the spread of this virus. However, this coronavirus doesn’t need an animal’s help to go from person to person,” said Esper. “We’re doing it just fine ourselves.”

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