Coronavirus and COVID-19 in animals

Coronavirus and COVID-19 in animals

To date, it is unknown what role pets and farm animals play in the epidemiology of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), that causes the disease COVID-19. This article contains information on the coronavirus in relations (domestically) kept animals.

This publication is based on information from the Vetinf@ct newsletter for veterinarians dated 6 March. Wageningen Bioverterinary Research (WBVR) contributed to this publication. This article was last updated on 3 August 2020.

Coronavirus in kept animals

The chance that the coronavirus infects a (farm) animal is minimal. Globally, few cases of SARS-CoV-2 in animals have been reported. The Dutch government states that that is plausible that employees of an infected mink farm were infected by mink. Besides that, there are currently no indications that animals form a source of infection for humans. Further research is required to gain insight into how different animals are affected by the virus. Currently, studies are being done to clarify the role of pets and small farm animals.

Suspicion in animals

Humans diagnosed with COVID-19 are legally required to report this. This is not the case for animals in the Netherlands, with the exeption of mink. However, if an animal is tested positive, it is crucial to inform the government. As a member of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Dutch government is compelled by duty to share relevant developments regarding (possible) emerging animal diseases. Therefore, veterinarians are requested to contact the NVWA (in Dutch) in cases where a COVID-infection is suspected. Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) has a PCR test available for SARS-CoV-2 and can test animals. However, tests are only performed in risk-situations and after consultation with the NVWA.

Vaccines en tests

There are currently no vaccines available for animals infected by coronaviruses causing respiratory infections. Vaccines against coronaviruses that cause gastrointestinal infections are available for various species. Still, these are species-specific vaccines against enteral coronaviruses. These are not meant for SARS-CoV-2.

Tests are available for testing dogs and cats for the coronavirus. However, these tests check for the coronaviruses responsible for gastrointestinal infections and are not suited for testing humans. Furthermore, these tests are not designed for SARS-CoV-2.

Advice regarding the handling of pets

The measures stated below are precautionary.

Mild symptoms and care for pets

If you have mild symptoms such as a fever, symptoms of the common cold or coughing, avoid contact with your pets as a precautionary measure. That means: no petting, hugging or allowing the pet to lick you. Have house-mates care for and walk your pets if possible. It is always advisable to adhere to general hygiene measures concerning pets (see below). If you are not able to have others care for your pet, take additional measures, such as washing your hands before touching your pet.

COVID-19 patients and their pets

People with COVID-19 are advised to avoid contact with pets as much as possible. That means: no petting, hugging or allowing the pet to lick you. If you are a COVID-19 patient in self-quarantine and living with more than one housemate, stay in one room and do not allow your pet in the room. House-mates can take care of the pet, adhering to the usual hygiene measures (see below). People without symptoms can walk the dog as normal.

If you are living alone, you are advised to avoid direct contact with pets as much as possible, and to adhere to additional precautionary hygiene measures, such as washing your hands before touching your pet, or, preferably, asking someone else to care for it.

Should you decide to place your pet in a animal care facility temporarily, these facilities have restrictions when admitting an animal. Dogs must be inoculated against CDV, CPV, HCC (CAV2) and kennel cough. Cats must be inoculated against FPV, FHV and FCV. There is no need to quarantine or isolate pets belonging to COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 patiets and farm animals  

The precautionary principle applies to animals used for food production until more information on the risks becomes available. Livestock farmers infected with COVID-19 are advised to avoid contact with their animals, refrain from visiting the stables, and delegate the care for the livestock to others.

Animals that have been in touch with a COVID-19 patient

If a pet or farm animal has been in contact with a COVID-19 patient, no additional measures are needed. General hygiene measures applying to human-animal interaction, such as washing your hands with water and soap, are sufficient.

Walking dogs and other animals

There is no indication that animals contribute to spreading the virus. Dogs may be walked as usual, and are permitted to be in contact with other dogs during their walk. Anyone walking their dog should adhere to the social distancing requirement of 1.5 meters. Cats that are accustomed to roaming outside are free to continue to do so.

General hygiene measures

In animal care facilities, general hygiene measures are sufficient. These measures also apply to veterinary clinics.

  • Do not allow pets to lick, and wash hands immediately after contact with animals, their food or faeces.
  • Adhere to hygiene measures: wash your hands often with water and soap for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and in between clients/patients.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60 per cent alcohol.
  • Provide disinfectant, wipes and tissues in all research locations, meeting rooms, toilets, break rooms and other communal areas.
  • Refrain from touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cough and sneeze in your elbow or use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth and dispose of the tissue immediately after use.

Additional measures are in place when animals suspected of having the coronavirus are treated or examined in a veterinary clinic.

Coronaviruses in animals

Coronaviruses occur in various animal species. For example canine coronavirus (CCV) in dogs, feline coronavirus (FCV) in cats, porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus (PEDV), transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) and porcine respiratory coronavirus (PRCV) in pigs and infectious bronchitis virus (IBD) in chickens. These viruses are different strains than  SARS-CoV-2, mostly species-specific and non-zoonotic. Thus, they cannot be transferred to humans.