Human Animal Interaction

Welfare and Behaviour

Pets and the coronavirus: what we need to know

At the moment, there is no evidence that pet dogs or cats can be a source of infection to other animals or to humans in a domestic environment.

There is now evidence that infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes human COVID-19, can occur rarely in pets of infected persons.

The science now indicates that cats are more susceptible to the virus than dogs and appear to be less likely to develop clinical signs of the disease. This has now been shown to be true in a small study (not yet peer reviewed) with experimental inoculations of laboratory animals, and in a few households where the pet owner is COVID-19 positive, where the transmission is human-to-animal.

Currently, there is no evidence to that pets infected by humans in domestic environments can spread COVID-19. Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact.

Cases of infection in dogs appear to be infrequent. So far, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong has run tests on 17 dogs and 8 cats from households with confirmed COVID-19 cases or persons in close contact with confirmed patients, and only 2 dogs had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

These findings indicate that dogs and cats in domestic environments are not infected easily with this virus, and at this time there is no evidence that they can transmit the virus to people.

However, this is a novel virus, and research is ongoing.

Health officials are recommending that infected people quarantine themselves from people and pets and leave the care of their pets to family members or loved ones who have not been infected. Exposed pets should also be kept away from unexposed people and pets.

What can pet owners do now?

In addition to following public health officials’ recommendations about quarantining infected people from pets, there are some general steps pet owners should take.

- Wash your hands after handling animals or their environment and supervise hand-washing for children under age 5.
- Protect your skin from direct contact with animal faeces. Wear vinyl household cleaning gloves or a plastic bag when cleaning up after a pet.
- Promptly wash bites and scratches caused by animals. Don’t allow pets to lick open wounds, cuts or medical devices.
- Pets shouldn’t lick the faces of young children and immunocompromised patients.
- Avoid contact with wildlife or potentially infected persons by keeping pets on a leash and otherwise indoors or in enclosed outdoor spaces such as a fenced in yard or kennel.
- Ensure pets stay healthy with regular veterinary visits and preventive care, including parasite prevention.
- Routinely clean and disinfect animal contact surfaces (e.g., cages, feeding areas).
- Seek veterinary care at the first sign of illness in an animal.

Here is more Dr. Anne Kimmerlein from VCA Animal Hospital on what owners can do to help pets stay safe during the virus outbreak.

Tips to keep you and your pets active while social distancing

People around the world are doing their part to help flatten the curve by practicing social distancing. Here are some tips to for fun and safe play at home. We trust this advice will help you keep your pet healthy and happy in the coming weeks and months.

For all pets

- Closely monitor food portions and be careful not to overfeed or give too many treats – avoiding overfeeding is a simple way to help your pets maintain healthy body weight.
- Choose playtime carefully: the best time for play is often when cats and dogs are well rested and eager for human attention.
- Give lots of praise and encouragement. This helps make the experience fun and rewarding.
- Encourage appropriate play. Avoid scratching or nipping, and stop play immediately if pets behave badly.
- Have fun, but avoid overexcitement or chasing, particularly when children are around.
- Keep play at ground level to avoid jumping up.

For cat owners

- Engaging cats in 20-30 second games – perhaps during commercial breaks when you’re watching TV – is enough to tip the scales of energy balance in the right direction. Making them a regular part of everyday life is the best way to create a new routine.
- Using activity feeders such as balls, mazes and towers are great ways to keep cats active around feeding time. This helps to slow food consumption to allow the cat to feel full and satisfied.
- Activity feeders also provide the novelty that most cats enjoy, keeping them fully active and engaged. Just remember to make sure the food is visible, so they don’t get discouraged and give up.
- However, it’s important to note that - like people - cats have different levels of dexterity, so it’s worth trying different activity feeders to find one that suits your own pet.

Read Dr. Jo Gale's blog for even more tips to keep your cat active and in shape.

For dog owners

- Dogs need regular exercise and playtime. For the times you can’t leave the house, try setting up simple obstacle courses if there’s room and it’s safe to do so.
- Play hide and seek. Tell your dog to sit while you go and hide, call out and watch them search high and low for you.
- Work on some obedience training and teach your dogs some new tricks. This is great to not only keep them physically exercised, but mentally engaged as well.

Keeping them active is part of being a responsible pet owner, and here is a good guide for new and more seasoned owners alike.

Building the bond

Both cats and dogs can form deep emotional bonds with humans. Here is how we can build and strengthen them:

- Plan enjoyable time together. Relationships are built on spending time together and sharing experiences.
- Communicate clearly. Cats and dogs tend to focus on body language rather than speech. When training, use consistent signals. Good communication is the basis of a strong bond.
- Use treats responsibly. Giving cats and dogs pet treats is a great way to encourage bonding and good behavior when training them.
- Invest in training. Well-trained dogs enjoy life more and are a pleasure to have around. Training also helps reduce dogs’ frustration, since it’s easier for trained pets to understand what’s expected of them.
- Learn about pet behavior. Take time to understand body language and facial expressions that might indicate happiness or stress. If pets feel they can rely on their owner for protection, they’ll feel closer to their human sidekick.
- Provide plenty of personal contact. Grooming and stroking doesn’t just feel good for pets— it also helps owners feel more relaxed. Affection, routines, and meeting a pet’s essential needs will strengthen your bond.

How the human-animal bond can benefit both people and pets

Pets can help us cope with stress and anxiety as we navigate these unprecedented times. Here are several research findings indicating how pet interaction could benefit our mental health.

- Having a pet may be linked to better overall heart health.
- Dogs' oxitocin levels (the "happy" hormone) increase when they are interacting with people
- Older homebound adults who own cats or dogs have been shown to be better at paying attention, remembering details, and learning from past experiences than those who don’t own pets.
- Dogs help children deal with stress, be more self-confident, and understand responsibility: when kids help walk, bathe, and feed the dog, they learn how to take care of another living creature.

Find other helpful booklets and guides on healthy weight management, essential nutrition, human-animal interaction and responsible pet ownership on our resources page.

For more information, visit:

- World Small Animal Veterinary Association: Coronavirus and Companion Animals Advice
- World Organization for Animal Health (OIE): Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): About Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)