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The current global pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation and researchers are still learning more about the virus (the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 or SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 in people. What we do know is it spreads easily among the community and can show a wide range of symptoms or, in some cases, even be asymptomatic or "silent spreaders".
While COVID-19 seems to have emerged from an animal source, the current pandemic is mainly driven through person to person transmission. It is important to note that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause cold or flu-like illnesses in people while others cause illnesses in certain types of animals such as cattle, camels and bats.
Based on some cases reported worldwide, pets were infected with the coronavirus after they had close contact with humans who had COVID-19. Cats (domestic and large cats), mink and dogs have tested positive for the coronavirus following close contact with humans infected with COVID-19.
There is a possibility that pets may get the coronavirus from their owners who have COVID-19. Pets infected with the coronavirus may get sick and show symptoms like respiratory and gastro-intestinal problems. There is ongoing research to understand how animals are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and how they are affected by the infection.
Despite reports of infected mink farms in the Netherlands which suggested there is a possibility for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from infected minks to humans, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is considered to be low. Rather, based on the limited information available to date, it appears that the coronavirus can spread from animal to animal (e.g. from cats to other cats) and, in some cases, from people to animals.
While current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 originated from an animal source, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify its source or explain how it transmitted to humans. More studies are required to find the source, to determine how the virus entered the human population, and to establish the potential role of animals in this disease.
People who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 should avoid or minimize close direct contact with their pets and other animals including farm animals, zoo animals and wildlife. If possible, have another member of your household care for them. If you must look after your pets, try to maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask if possible. Avoid contact as much as possible, such as touching, licking or sharing food.
In the event your pet develops an unexplained illness and was around an infected person, you should speak with your public health official or public health veterinarian. If you are advised to take your pet to a vet, call your clinic before you go to let them know you have a sick pet that has been exposed to an infected person. This will allow the clinic to advise you on what you should do next and, if you need to bring your pet to the clinic, it will give them sufficient time to prepare an isolation area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") does not recommend routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 and vets are strongly encouraged to rule out other common causes of illnesses before considering testing.
If a family member is sick or is showing symptoms of COVID-19, you should isolate that person from everyone else in your household, including pets.
If no one in your household has symptoms of COVID-19, subject to the recommended safety precautions, you can care for your pets as you normally would by going on walks or playing with them. Exercise is important for us and our pets' health and well-being. If your local hiking trails and parks are open, follow social-distancing measures by walking your dog in less crowded areas. Take extra care to avoid contact with sick animals and with other animal waste or fluids.
The CDC encourages pet owners to treat pets as they would other family members to protect them from possible infection. This means limiting contact between your pets and other people or pets outside your household as much as possible and avoiding crowded places.
Follow basic hygiene measures when handling and caring for your pets. It is always a good idea to regularly wash your hands with soap and water, especially after contact with pets. Just remember that all animals still carry other germs that can make you sick. Finally, be sure to include your pets in your lockdown and quarantine plans and ensure there are sufficient supplies for not only your family but also your pets to keep them comfortable, safe and healthy.