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Coronavirus and Covid-19 in pets

isolated cat and dog
Last updated: 26th April 2021

Overview

  • During the pandemic some species of animal have been infected with Covid-19 after close contact with an infected person; however, this is extremely rare.
  • Fortunately, most animals found with Covid-19 have had no (or very mild) symptoms, and we are confident that they don’t play a major role in its spread.
  • However, animal fur can carry the Covid-19 virus just like any other surface, so if you own a pet, it’s important to maintain good hygiene, and keep them socially distanced from people outside of your household.
  • As usual, contact your vet for advice if your pet becomes unwell.
  • If you develop symptoms of Covid-19, it’s best to minimise contact with your pets, just as you would any people in your household. Read more about ferrets and letting your cat outdoors below.

What is a coronavirus?

The coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some strains affect animals, some affect humans, and some can affect both. The common cold in humans, kennel cough in dogs, and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) in cats are all examples of illnesses caused by coronavirus. Covid-19 is an illness caused by a strain called ‘SARS-CoV-2’.

Can animals catch Covid-19?

Yes, some animals can catch Covid-19 through close contact with infected humans, but fortunately, this is extremely rare. In addition, the virus doesn’t seem to affect animals as severely as humans, and the chances of them spreading it are very low. The main driver of Covid-19 spread is human-to-human contact.

Dogs

Although it's extremely unlikely, dogs have been shown to be able to catch Covid-19 from infected humans. Most don't show symptoms, and those that do tend to be mild. There is no evidence to show that dogs can pass Covid-19 back to humans or other animals.

Cats

In rare cases, cats have been seen to catch Covid-19 from infected humans and develop symptoms (in most cases these symptoms are mild). It's possible that cats can pass it to other cats, but there is currently no evidence that they can pass it back to humans.

Rabbits

It's been shown that rabbits can catch Covid-19 from infected humans, but don't develop symptoms and aren't contagious to other rabbits or any other species.

Ferrets

Ferrets can catch Covid-19 from infected humans and in some cases develop symptoms and spread it to other ferrets. Based on mink infections, there is thought to be a possibility that ferrets could pass Covid-19 back to uninfected humans (but this hasn't been proven). Read more about ferrets below.

Symptoms of Covid-19 in animals

Fortunately, most of the small number of animals that have tested positive for Covid-19 have either not had symptoms, or only suffered very mild symptoms such as:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • A runny nose
  • Weepy eyes
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Mild breathing difficulties
  • High temperature
  • Reduced appetite

Contact your vet for advice if your pet has any of these symptoms, but keep in mind that they are all common symptoms and are unlikely to be Covid-19 related.

Can pets carry Covid-19 on their fur?

Yes, theoretically, just like any other surface, the Covid-19 virus can be carried on fur. However, there is no evidence that washing your pet helps reduces the spread of it, so there is no need to bath them anymore regularly than usual. Try to keep yourself and your pets a safe distance from people outside of your household, wash your hands regularly, and take extra precautions if you have any symptoms of Covid-19. See below for information about outdoor cats.

Can I touch my pet as normal?

If you are healthy (not suffering from Covid-19), it’s fine to interact with your pet as usual, just wash your hands regularly and keep them away from people outside of your household (see below for information about outdoor cats and ferrets).

If you are suffering from Covid-19 or have tested positive, you should minimise contact with your pet, just as you would with other people in your home.

Can I let my cat outside?

If you are healthy, there is no need to shut your cat indoors. If you have symptoms of Covid-19, it’s a good idea to try keeping your cat indoors if possible, but allow them out if they seem stressed or disrupted by their change in routine. If your cat continues to go outside it is important to try to minimise your contact with them.

Can my pet be tested for coronavirus?

Although Covid-19 pet tests do exist, routine testing is not currently being recommended because the virus has affected so few pets, and they aren’t playing a role in spreading it. In addition, the tests aren’t widely available at the moment because they are being prioritised for use during scientific studies, or where an animal is at very high risk (e.g. endangered species). If you are worried about your pet, or they are showing signs of illness, contact your vet for help.

Is there a Covid-19 vaccination for pets?

No, there is no animal vaccine available for Covid-19. It is unlikely that one will be needed because the virus is so rare in pets and doesn’t cause severe disease or play a major role in its spread.

Advice for ferret owners

The government has released specific advice for ferret owners because farmed mink (a species very similar to ferrets) have been shown to catch Covid-19 from an infected human, pass it between themselves, and in a small number of cases, back to uninfected humans. Because of the similarities between mink and ferrets, it’s thought that ferrets may be able to spread the virus in a similar way. Therefore, if you own ferrets, it’s important to take extra precautions if you have (or think you have) Covid-19. From the start of your period of self-isolation, you should limit contact with your ferrets as much as possible. Ideally, someone else in your household (without symptoms) should care for them and maintain good hygiene (hands-face-space) and because ferrets could potentially be infectious for up to three weeks (21 days), you will need to keep them away from humans and other ferrets from outside your household for this time.

Any ferrets brought into the UK from a country not on the travel corridor list should also be isolated for three weeks before they meet any other humans or ferrets. In Wales, you must self-isolate your ferret if they have returned through the Pet Travel Scheme.

Contact your vet straight away if your ferret develops any signs of Covid-19 (such as low energy, changes in appetite, respiratory problems or diarrhoea), they may want to test them for the Covid-19 virus.

Find out more about your specific region on GOV.UK:

Will I be able to access my vet during the pandemic?

Yes, always contact your vet if your pet becomes unwell, but please be patient and call before going to the practice because your vet may be offering an altered service at the moment.

Does my pet need to wear a mask?

No, there is no evidence to show that pets need to wear masks during the Covid-19 pandemic, wearing one is likely to be uncomfortable and distressing.

Updates

PDSA will endeavour to keep this page updated as we find out more about Covid-19.

PetWise Pet Health Hub – brought to you thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery 

Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst