Pets of COVID-19 positive/at-risk humans
Wednesday, 25 March 2020
- The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission.
- There is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease to humans or other animals.
- There have been no 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.
What species are susceptible?
There is limited information available about the susceptibility of domestic animals to infection with the virus.
The Veterinary Services of the Hong Kong reported to OIE evidence that two dogs have been infected with the COVID-19 virus following close exposure to owners who were sick with COVID-19. The OIE advises there is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick.
Ferrets have been demonstrated experimentally to be susceptible to the virus (https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Health/Infectious-dieases-coronavirus/Latest-updates), but there is no evidence that ferrets have been naturally infected with the virus.
Animals including ferrets, cats and guinea pigs were susceptible to the 2003 SARS coronavirus in experimental trials, and infected cats were reported in an apartment complex in Hong Kong during the epidemic (https://www.nature.com/articles/425915a).
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 with a COVID-19 infection in the household to limit close contact with their pets and practice good hand hygiene before and after handling their animal and its food and water bowls.
Above all, practice and promote good hand hygiene and social distancing at all times.
- 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.