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More Studies Needed to Understand if Pets Spread Coronavirus

Tracy Davenport Tracy Davenport
23rd September 2020
More Studies Needed to Understand if Pets Spread Coronavirus
Pets' ability to spread the virus is still unknown (Getty Images).

The Claim

Owners should isolate from their cats and dogs to stop coronavirus transmission.

Emerging story

London’s newspaper the Evening Standard reported that those with coronavirus should self-isolate from their pets to avoid transmitting the infection. Others then shared the warning on social media. 

Misbar’s Analysis

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is a very small number of pets around the world reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, it remains unclear, for example, how often cats and dogs become infected with the virus, what their symptoms are, and how likely they are to pass it along to other animals, including humans. 

It does appear that our animals may be more at risk from us than we are from them. At this point, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of the virus to people. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, there is no evidence that viruses can spread to people or other animals from a pet’s skin, fur or hair. “There’s a lot greater risk of going to the grocery store than hanging out with your own animal,” says Scott Weese, a veterinarian at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College who specializes in emerging infectious diseases and one of the authors of the study presented in the Evening Standard

Like many of the COVID-19 studies in humans, most studies on pets have yet to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Shelly Rankin, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, says the studies so far are preliminary: “Almost every preprint I have seen is flawed in some way.” For example, the warnings on social media and in the Evening Standard were based on research in homes of people with COVID-19. They sampled 18 dogs, 16 cats, and 1 ferret. All of the animals tested negative for COVID-19 except for one inconclusive results findings from one cat according to the website of one of the researchers. They did find virus antibodies in 50 percent of the cats and 20 percent of the dogs. One of the researchers admitted that a press release about the findings had been picked up by various news agencies resulting in “some articles about the study that are a bit alarmist.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, if your pet does become ill, "there is reason to be hopeful. Of the small number of dogs and cats confirmed to have the virus that causes COVID-19, some didn’t show any signs of illness. The pets that did become ill only experienced mild symptoms and could be cared for at home. None of them died.” 

If you become sick it is a good idea to self-isolate in your home in order to help everyone stay well. However, more work needs to be done to determine how and if pets play a role in the spread of COVID-19.

Misbar’s Classification


Misbar’s Sources

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