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Coronavirus in cats and dogs: when and how to contact your vet

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Cases of Covid-19 in pets are extremely rare.

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Covid-19 is not thought to cause significant disease in animals – though in rare cases they may carry the virus. There is no evidence that our pets can transmit the virus to humans.

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Published on the 08/04/2020, 21:00, Updated on the 12/03/2021, 10:41

So, what are the risks and what should we do if pets become unwell with Covid-19 symptoms? Wamiz brings you the answers.

Can pets get covid-19?

At the time of writing, two dogs, one cat and one tiger have tested positive for Covid-19. Contrast that to the situation in the human population where over 1.2 million people worldwide have been confirmed as having the infection. The chance of any pet getting coronavirus is extremely small. The cat was reported to have shown symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea and difficulty breathing, but then recovered. No animals have been thought to be seriously ill or confirmed as dying as a result of having the virus. However, there is some evidence animals may be able to spread the virus.

A recent study by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China showed cats exposed to high levels of the virus could become infected, and transfer the virus to other non-exposed cats. The same was shown to be true in ferrets, but not in dogs, chickens, or pigs. To date, there's no evidence of animals passing the virus to people, and they’re not thought to be significant in terms of overall transmission of the virus. Until we know more, it's a good idea to wash your hands before and after contact with your pet, and reduce them mixing with other animals and humans; social distancing for pets.

My dog is coughing - does he have coronavirus?

If your pet is sneezing or coughing it's very unlikely to be coronavirus, even if it’s a persistent, dry cough. There are many common reasons which cause similar symptoms in dogs and cats, and they are much more likely than coronavirus. For example, kennel cough in dogs is usually caused by a mix of different viruses and bacteria. If your pet is showing symptoms, contact a vet for advice and to discuss if they need to be seen.

Can I give coronavirus to my dog?

It is extremely unlikely that your pet can catch coronavirus from you. However, if you have been confirmed to be infected and are self-isolating, you should restrict contact with pets as a precaution. If your pet requires hands-on care you should wash your hands before touching them and wear a face mask if possible. If you cough near your pet or touch them with unwashed hands, the virus particles may be carried on their body. This means they can act as a physical carrier (fomite) of virus to other people, even if they are not infected.

If you are self-isolating because you are unwell, the Canine and Feline Sector Group's advice is to ask someone else to walk your dog. Remember your dog may act as a physical carrier, so it's important to minimise the risk to other people by reducing physical contact with your dog, and advising others to wear gloves and wash their hands. It's also recommended to keep cats indoors as much as possible.

Are vets open during coronavirus lockdown?

It's best to check a local vet’s website for guidance. If this doesn't answer your query, then telephone them. Vets are only carrying out essential (urgent and emergency) work during the lockdown period, and most are offering telephone or video consultations instead. If you're self-isolating, make sure you tell the vet and avoid taking your pet to the clinic if possible. Try to arrange for someone else to transport your pet if the vet advises they need to be examined.

What counts as an emergency?

If you're worried your pet is showing symptoms of coronavirus (most commonly a cough and a temperature) it’s important to speak to a vet. Animals can get pneumonia, which is the most common reason people with coronavirus become seriously unwell. The underlying cause of the symptoms in your pet is very unlikely to be Covid-19, but they may still require supportive treatment and emergency care, even if the original cause is different.