Coronavirus risk to dogs still extremely low, says AVC professor

A professor with the Atlantic Veterinary College says despite a dog testing positive in Ontario this week, the risk of your pet contracting or spreading COVID-19 is still extremely low.

If the rest of the household has to isolate, pets don't get to roam freely either

Though Canada reported its first case of COVID-19 in a dog this week, Dr. Jason Stull with the AVC says the risk for pet-to-pet or pet-to-human transmission is extremely low. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

A professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College says the risk of your pet contracting or spreading COVID-19 is extremely low.

This comes after an Ontario dog became the first in Canada to test positive for the virus earlier this week. The dog was living in a household where four of the six human residents had contracted COVID-19; the animal was tested as part of a specific study on pets.

"The risk for your own pets is extremely small, but it's not zero," said AVC professor Dr. Jason Stull. 

"The public may forget or may not be aware that animals can get many of the same types of diseases as people can get, and that's true for COVID-19 as well."

Stull is familiar with the research being conducted across Canada and around the world. He said that overall, COVID-positive pets pose a low risk to other pets and to people. 

In the case in Ontario, he says the dog was infected by its owner. 

"The dog was healthy, happy. You wouldn't have known it was infected." 

But there's a lesson here: Stull said those self-isolating should think of their pets as extensions of their families. 

Stull says we should think of pets as extensions of our household during the pandemic. That means protecting them like family members and quarantining them with the household if necessary. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

"It just means that we're not taking the dog to the dog park while you're sick or while you potentially are infectious, and if it's a cat, we're keeping the cat indoors during that two-week period," he said.

Pet-to-pet transmission is still unlikely, though. 

"Not only does the animal have to get infected, they would also have to be infectious, so they'd actually have to have enough of the virus in their system that they could transmit it."

Lions and tigers and mink

In addition to household pets, other animals can also contract COVID-19, like the tigers and other big cats infected at the Bronx Zoo, or the outbreaks at European and American mink farms.

Every animal species is a little bit different, the assistant professor said, which is why humans are highly susceptible to be infected and spread COVID-19, while our dogs may be at lower risk. 

Stull said it all comes down to the different types of receptors in our systems. These determine how the virus binds itself within your body, infects you so that you start to display symptoms, and then goes on to replicate, he said.

Stull says most animals who test positive for the coronavirus remain asymptomatic. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

"The great news is that most of the animals that have been diagnosed, or they've found COVID-19 in these animals, have not had any signs of disease at all."

While most animals are asymptomatic, Stull said it's still important to be aware of the possibilities. 

"We're taking a lot of precautions right now," he said. 

"What we're doing to protect ourselves, to protect our family members? Let's do the same thing to protect our pets."

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Nicola is a graduate of St. Thomas University's journalism program and grew up on P.E.I., where she is happy to be a reporter and producer online, on radio and on television. Got a story? Email