Calgary

Cats, dogs and catching COVID-19: 'You don't need to be afraid of your companion animals'

We've taken drastic measures to avoid each other in the age of COVID-19, but should we be physically distancing ourselves from our cats and dogs? 

University of Calgary studying transmission of coronavirus between pets and people

'We've had two cats and two dogs that have been positive, along with that tiger at the Bronx Zoo,' Dr. Rebecca Archer said. 'The thing about that is, we're the problem. So they're not spreading it to us. We're spreading it to them.' (Yvette Brend/CBC)

We've circled each other on sidewalks, had standoffs in grocery store aisles, and otherwise taken drastic measures to avoid each other in the age of COVID-19.

But should we be physically distancing ourselves from our cats and dogs? How dangerous are we to our furry friends — and vice versa?

The research is still in its early stages, but the University of Calgary is studying the transmission of the coronavirus between pets and people.

And Dr. Rebecca Archer, a clinical instructor of small animal medicine with the faculty of veterinary medicine, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday that there is no evidence so far that we can catch the coronavirus from our pets. 

However, the research suggests they can catch it from us.

Luckily, there are steps we can take to keep ourselves — and our animals — healthy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: Let's start at the beginning. How much do we know about COVID-19 and animals?

A: I want to preface all of this by saying that the research is still in its infancy. So, a lot of the research that's coming out right now hasn't had a chance to be peer-reviewed, which is something that we always end up doing; it's part of the scientific process.

Anything that we do gets checked and double-checked and triple-checked, but we really want the information as quickly as possible. 

What we do know is that we've had two cats and two dogs that have been positive, along with that tiger at the Bronx Zoo. The thing about that is, we're the problem. So they're not spreading it to us. We're spreading it to them. 

I really want to emphasize that — you don't need to be afraid of your companion animals. They're a wonderful source of comfort during this pandemic, and they're not going to give you COVID-19. There's no evidence of that anywhere out there.

Q: Let's be clear about this: you are not going to get COVID-19 from your pet. That's what you're telling us?

A: There is no evidence anywhere out there that anybody has caught COVID-19 from their pet. And we've got a lot of infected people at this point. Chances are, if it was possible to get it from your pet, or likely, we would have seen it by now.

Q: But as far as we understand, COVID-19 originally spread to humans from animals. So how does it work that it won't happen again?

A: Somewhere, there's probably an animal that spread it to people. But that animal probably wasn't a cat or a dog. And so, these species that we're currently interacting with are not the ones that we're worried about giving us COVID-19. We're really the problem now. Whatever that original animal was, it's humans that are the spreaders at this point.

Q: Can you catch it from petting someone else's dog?

A: Theoretically, it's possible. So, think of your dog in the same way that you'd think of a cardboard box from Amazon — except way, way less likely. It is less likely to be able to live on there and transfer. And the reality is, your pet's hair is not transferring a ton of virus. It's not happening. 

There's still good hygiene to happen around that. It's still probably a great idea to wash your hands before and after petting animals.

Q: If someone had COVID-19, should they be isolating from their cat or their dog as well as other people?

A: They probably should. So treat your pet in your house in the same way that you would anybody else that you'd want to protect. The reality is, our dogs are maybe not really showing any clinical signs at all — they don't look sick if they get COVID-19.

But our cats and our ferrets and some hamsters are getting a little bit sick if they get COVID-19 from us. So probably nice if you isolate from them — as well as the rest of your non-furry family.

And don't be afraid of them. They're a great source of companionship right now.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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