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 25 January 2021.

Coronavirus in kept animals

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has been found in pets, such as dogs or cats. The virus has also been found at various mink farms, including in the Netherlands. To date, the virus has not been detected in other livestock.

It is plausible that employees of an infected mink farm were infected by mink. Besides that, there are currently no indications that kept 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 livestock.

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.

COVID-19 patients and their pets

People with COVID-19 are advised to avoid contact with pets as much as possible. It's best to let a healthy person take care of the animals. They are also advised to keep their pets inside during their quarantine period. That is, to only go on short strolls with their dog while keeping the leash on. And keep cats inside as much as possible. Although this last advice may be difficult to follow when the cat mainly lives outside.

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.

COVID-19 patients and farm animals  

The precautionary principle applies to livestock until more information on the risks becomes available. 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.

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.