It has been a life-changing week in Northern Minnesota. Less than a month ago, COVID-19 was known only as “The Corona Virus” and thought to be a disease of foreign countries on the other side of the world. We were warned but didn’t really believe that it would make its way to the United States. Suddenly it’s here and our lives have changed dramatically overnight – schools and restaurants are closed, events are canceled, and everyone is urged to keep a six-foot social distance from each other. 

As we slowly adjust to this new normal, many will start to wonder what this means for their four-legged companions. The truth is, at this time, we don’t know exactly how our pets will be impacted. Here is what we do know:

Both dogs and cats can become infected with strains of coronaviruses. But these coronaviruses are not COVID-19. COVID-19 is a novel virus, meaning that it is a virus that we have never seen before. The coronaviruses that commonly affect dogs and cats are not the same and they do not cause disease in people. Although COVID-19 is believed to have originated in an animal (some reports say a bat), there is no evidence as of yet that the virus is transferred from dogs or cats to people.

There has been one report of a dog testing positive for COVID-19 after his owner became sick with the disease. The dog never showed signs of illness. Further testing is in process to determine if the dog was just exposed or if his immune system produced antibodies to COVID-19, meaning his body was infected with the virus. Another dog who was also exposed repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19. On March 13, 2020, Idexx, a veterinary reference laboratory, announced that it has tested thousands of dogs and cats for COVID-19 and has not obtained any positive results.

There is a possibility that COVID-19 may transfer from a person to a pet, but the primary mode of transmission is person to person spread. However, until more is known about COVID-19, if you are infected with the virus, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends to avoid contact with your pet. The website states:

“Have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.”

A bigger concern to pet owners is that pet fur may act as a fomite, an object capable of carrying an infectious agent.  If an infected person coughs on their pet, the virus may be present on the pet’s haircoat. How long it will survive there is not known at this time, but it could potentially be hours or more. Collars and leashes can also act as fomites and carry the disease. This is another reason why it is strongly advised to avoid taking care of your pet if you are sick.

There is still so much we are learning about COVID-19 and new information is coming out daily. If your pet is showing any respiratory signs, the best thing to do is to contact your veterinarian for guidance.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.



Dr. Jennifer Shepherd received her DVM from Colorado State University in 2000. She is currently the owner and head veterinarian at Cloquet Animal Hospital, a small animal practice in Cloquet, Minn.

When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband Paul, three children, and her dog Coal.