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Is your dog safe from COVID-19? What about your cat?

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At last, some good news about the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19: Our pet dogs may not be affected, at least based on the data now available.

As indicated by the World Health Organization, there is currently no definitive evidence that dogs and cats can be actively infected, become sick or transmit the virus, said Ohio State experts Linda Saif and Michael Oglesbee.

This is so even despite the likelihood that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus causing COVID-19, originated from an animal source, they said.

Saif is a distinguished university professor on the faculty of the Food Animal Health Research Program, a unit of the university’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences affiliated with the College of Veterinary Medicine. Oglesbee is a professor of veterinary biosciences and director of the university’s Infectious Diseases Institute.

(In addition to reading this story, check out the College of Veterinary Medicine's in-depth FAQ on COVID-19 and animals, including horses and livestock.) 

Many types of coronaviruses

Saif and Oglesbee shared their knowledge to explain why dogs and cats are not being infected despite the likelihood that the virus took hold by spreading from bats to an unknown mammalian host or hosts — and then to humans.

“There are many types of coronavirus, and each differs in terms of the species that are susceptible to infection,” they wrote in a joint email. “Not all coronaviruses cross-infect other species and some are more species specific.”

For example, dogs and cats are susceptible to infections with canine or feline strains of coronaviruses that mainly cause gastrointestinal and respiratory disease, and in some cats, a systemic disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis.

None of these dog and cat coronaviruses infect humans.

According to a news report, in February one dog in Hong Kong tested weakly positive for the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in nasal swabs, but the presence of live virus and an active infection was not confirmed. This could reflect environmental virus contamination, because the diagnostic test used to detect the virus is extremely sensitive, Saif and Oglesbee said.

Nevertheless, protect your pets

Although there is no definitive evidence that dogs and cats can be sickened by the new virus, there are steps we can take just as a precaution.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted guidelines to help us protect our pets if we or our family members are diagnosed with COVID-19.

The CDC recommends that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with family members and pets —including petting, being licked, sharing food or dishes or utensils — and wear a mask, if possible, during the quarantine period, Saif and Oglesbee said.

“In general, besides for COVID-19, for good hygiene you should always wash your hands before and after contact with pets,” they said. “Another precautionary measure is that if you are quarantined at home, the pet should be confined at home as well during the probationary period.”

The Ohio State experts also advised keeping your pet clean.

“Bathing your pet with soap or shampoo during and at the end of the quarantine period will kill virus on the pet’s fur since SARS-CoV-2 is inactivated by detergents,” they said. “Ideally, you should prearrange for someone else to care for your pet if you are hospitalized with COVID-19 and have an adequate supply of pet food on hand.”

For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/animals