COVID-19 and animals
Written March 2020, Updated 3rd May 2022
- The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission.
- There have been no confirmed reports of the virus in domestic animals or wildlife in Australia.
- The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) advises there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.
- People who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with the COVID-19 virus should minimise close direct contact with animals, including farm, zoo or other captive animals, and wildlife.
The SARS-COV2 virus continues to mutate and it is important that events in both humans and animals are closely monitored and that research continues to be undertaken in this area. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) regularly monitor events in animals globally and has a standing FAO (Food and Agricultural organisation)-OIE Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 evolution in animals to provide advice on the risks related to the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 (through mutation or recombination) in animal populations.
What species are susceptible?
Several animal species have demonstrated susceptibility to the SARS-CoV-2 virus through experimental infection, and in natural settings when in contact with infected humans. More information about SARS-CoV-2 in animals and the work of the OIE can be found on the global OIE website COVID-19 page.
Testing for COVID 19 in animals
Based on evidence from overseas it is possible for SARS-CoV-2 infection to occur in companion animals, however there are no confirmed reports of this in Australia. Current evidence suggests that even if companion animals do get infected with SARS-CoV-2, most have no symptoms or mild disease. Occasionally they may develop severe disease, however this seems to be rare if it does occur, and is often associated with comorbidities.
At this time there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to humans. There is a low risk that animals may infect other animals they are in close contact with. Further reading here.
It is advised by the Australian Animal Health Committee that commercial entities who develop tests for SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals should reference the OIE Considerations on monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in animals, and carefully consider the circumstances when testing may support human and animal health and welfare outcomes. The AVA is not aware of any commercial entities that have developed validated tests available in Australia. While SARS-CoV-2 is not specifically listed on the National list of notifiable animal diseases, it has not been previously confirmed by laboratory testing in animals in Australia and therefore diagnostic test results for SARS-CoV-2 should be reported to the relevant jurisdictional Chief Veterinary Officer.
Can pets be fomites?
There is some concern amongst veterinary practitioners about an animal’s coat acting as a fomite for the virus, which is a possible mechanism for transmission. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises that the probability of becoming infected through contact with virus on animal fur is less than direct contact with an infected person’s saliva or mucus, or through contact with contaminated non-porous surfaces (https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/covid-19-faq-pet-owners_031520.pdf).
What should veterinarians do when seeing pets of COVID-19 positive or at-risk humans?
Veterinarians seeing pets of COVID-19 positive or at-risk humans should adopt the following measures:
- Minimise contact with the animal.
- Use gloves, surgical mask (if available) eye protection and a disposable gown (if available). All PPE should be removed carefully not touching the outside of masks, gowns and gloves https://www.cdc.gov/hai/pdfs/ppe/ppe-sequence.pdf.
- Practice good hand hygiene before and after wearing PPE/handling each animal.
- If you only have reusable gowns, wash with commercial laundry detergent in a hot wash (at least 71o Celsius for minimum 25 minutes) and drying in a tumble dryer on high heat (Anderson, M. E. C., et al. (2019). Infection prevention and control best practices for small animal veterinary clinics. Guelph, Ontario Animal Health Network).
- Do not store reusable goggles in open containers on shelves. Clean and disinfect them and place in sealed containers.
- Animals can be washed using animal shampoo before the consultation. This will remove and deactivate the virus. If the animal does not require hospitalisation, or if washing would cause undue stress to the animal, or exacerbate its medical condition is such that it would be inadvisable to do so, we suggest using PPE as described above.
Veterinarians should advise animal owners who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 virus to avoid close contact with their companion animals and have another member of their household care for them. If they must look after their companion animals, they should maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask, if possible. Animals belonging to owners infected with COVID-19 virus should be kept indoors in line with similar lockdown recommendations for humans applicable in the country or area. There is no justification in taking measures which may compromise the welfare of companion animals.
Above all, practice and promote good hand hygiene and social distancing at all times.
Should pets be vaccinated for COVID-19?
The current advice is that COVID-19 vaccination of animals in Australia is not required and there are no approved animal COVID 19 vaccines registered in Australia. The Australian government monitors this situation closely through monitoring emergence of new research and advice from global organisations, such as the OIE, and will modify its advice if required.
- World Organisation for Animal Health (2020) Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
- NSW Government Clinical Excellence Commission (2020) Clinical Coronavirus COVID-10 Standard and Transmission Based Precautions (including PPE)
- COVID-19: What we don't know but that doesn't mean we can't do something
- Social distancing and veterinary medicine
- Clinician's Brief: COVID-19 updates
- WSAVA: Coronavirus and companion animals
Please note that this is an evolving situation. Advice provided here is reflective of the evidence at hand. This document will be updated as required. For the most up-to-date advice on the COVID-19 situation in Australia, visit health.gov.au.