Ng Han Guan/Associated Press
En español | Dogs and cats can cough, wheeze and spike a fever when they're sick. But just because your four-legged friend comes down with these symptoms doesn't mean it has COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus that emerged in December in Wuhan, China.
In February, Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that one dog in the region, showing no symptoms of illness, tested “weak positive” for COVID-19. Even with this case, the AFCD and other health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), say there's no definitive evidence yet that pets can get sick from the virus that's circulating the globe and infecting humans. And while the virus “seems to have emerged from an animal source,” according to the CDC, there's also no indication that pets can pass SARS-CoV-2, the name of the virus that causes COVID-19, to people.
Diseases that spread from pets to humans
That said, dogs, cats and other animals can spread plenty of viral and bacterial illnesses to their human companions, including rabies, leptospirosis, listeria and salmonella, to name a few. Dogs can also carry superbugs that make people sick.
"And the concern with those particular diseases is that animals can be silent carriers and immunocompromised folks can be susceptible to picking them up,” explains Christine Klippen, an emergency veterinarian at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C.
Her advice? Wash your hands “really well” after you touch an animal or clean up its waste. Keep your pet up to date on vaccines, especially if your dog or cat is boarded often, is active outside or frequents dog parks. And don't forget to stay on top of flea and tick prevention.
"A lot of the flea and tick diseases that dogs and cats can pick up can also bite you and cause disease in us,” Klippen says.
The CDC also recommends avoiding those loving licks from your pet — especially around the mouth or an open wound.
If you notice any changes in your dog's health — vomiting, diarrhea (especially bloody diarrhea), coughing, nasal discharge, rapid breathing or variations in activity or demeanor — call the vet. These are signs your pet may have picked up a bug, Klippen says.
Prepare pets for a potential quarantine
Finally, as COVID-19 continues its spread in the U.S., include your pet in any preparedness plans you and your family make. When you're at the store stocking up on items for yourself, grab an extra bag of dog food or cat food, Klippen says.
If your pet is on a long-term medication, talk to your vet about getting some extra pills to make sure you won't run out, should you or your community experience a quarantine. The CDC recommends adults who take routine medications do the same.
"It's making sure that you have adequate supplies for your dog and cat as well,” Klippen explains.
And if you or anyone in your household tests positive for COVID-19, quarantine yourself and your pet — just to be safe, experts say.