Can animals get COVID-19?
Experimental evidence has shown that cats, ferrets and even hamsters can be infected in the laboratory with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A number of dogs, mink and cats (including a tiger and a lion) have also tested positive after having had close contact with infected people. However, the total number of cases remains low.
To date in the UK, there has been just one confirmed case of COVID-19 in a cat. The cat lived in a household with infected humans and made a full recovery.
What symptoms do animals with COVID-19 show?
Many infected animals show no signs of ill health. Those which do become unwell, develop mild respiratory and gastrointestinal signs (e.g. diarrhoea), fever and lethargy. The symptoms quickly resolve and the animals appear to make a full recovery.
Can pets transmit COVID-19 to humans?
At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of COVID-19, and the risk of pets passing the virus to their owners is thought to be very low.
But as is true for any surface, pets touched by someone infected with COVID-19 can carry the virus on their fur for a short period of time. The same is also true of any other objects the person has touched, e.g. dog leads and bowls.
How can I stop myself getting COVID-19 from animals?
Avoid touching animals that belong to people you do not know e.g. whilst out on a walk, or cats that visit your garden. Observe normal hygiene measures including washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap and water, before and after handling or stroking animals. Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes. Do not let the animal lick your face.
If you’re a dog walker and need to collect and return the dog from another person’s home, observe social distancing when doing so. If you need to enter the owner’s home, keep any time spent in the house and/or close proximity to others to a minimum, avoid touching too many surfaces, and consider wearing a mask and/or gloves to mitigate the risk. Wash your hands before and afterwards. As regional lockdowns and restrictions on travel, work and social contact occur – always check and follow your local rules and guidelines.
Where possible, avoid having any contact with animals from infected or isolating households. If contact is necessary, extra precautions such as the use of PPE (gloves, facemasks) should be considered.
Should I keep my cat indoors?
Provided you are well and are not currently isolating, there is no need to keep your cat indoors.
You should also follow good hygiene practice (e.g. hand washing) and try to limit physical contact with your cat during this time. This will limit the risk of them transmitting the virus to another person and/or household.
Should pets be washed to help reduce the risk of spread?
There is currently no scientific evidence that washing animals is necessary or effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19.
Washing or bathing will also increase the amount of close contact between you and the animal. There is also the potential it could increase the amount of virus released into the environment as aerosol droplets.
Anyone wishing to wash their pet should do so using pet-safe shampoo according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
What about applying disinfectant or hand sanitiser to the animal’s coat?
Many disinfectants and cleaning products, including hand sanitisers and wipes contain chemicals which have been proven to be effective in killing the virus. However, they can be very harmful to animals.
Potentially toxic chemicals found in these products include bleach, hydrogen peroxide, ammonium compounds, benzalkonium chloride, alcohols and phenols.
These chemicals can damage the animal’s hair and cause skin irritation and burns. If they get into the eye, they can cause severe irritation, pain and even blindness.
If licked e.g. during grooming, or swallowed, the chemicals cause severe irritation and ulceration of the lining out the mouth, oesophagus and stomach.
Less commonly, if the animal inhales fumes or aerosolised droplets of the chemical, it can cause irritation of the inside of the nose and lungs.
To avoid the risk of toxicity, you should NEVER apply disinfectants or cleaning products to your pet’s coat or skin or use hand sanitising products or wipes to clean their hair or feet.
When using these products around the home, keep pets away and ensure all surfaces are dry before allowing them to come into contact with them.
What about pet-safe antiseptics?
Some people have started using pet-safe antiseptic solutions to help reduce the amount of virus present on their pet’s coats and skin.
Leucillin Antiseptic Skincare is a Hypochlorous (HOCl) based antiseptic solution with proven efficacy against a wide range of pathogens including coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2. It is safe to be applied to the coat, paws and muzzle and might therefore help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 by pets. There are no known toxicities associated with this product, meaning there are no specific contraindications for its regular or long-term use.
Whilst this is a measure that might be taken by those needing to handle animals for work e.g. dog walkers, vets, groomers etc. it is not at all necessary for most pets.