By: Dr. Kristi Sharpe
COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds these days. It’s an invisible threat that the science community is working
night and day to figure out. New information comes out almost daily. I’ve been keeping up with its numerous
new developments especially as they pertain to my patients.
We know that COVID-19 is an RNA virus which means any mammal could potentially contract it. A few studies
have been done though they have yet to be peer reviewed that suggests some of our four legged friends may
be in danger of us bringing the virus to them, specifically cats and ferrets.
Originally dogs popped up in the news because they had tested positive. Both dogs mentioned had COVID-19
positive owners. At the time it was unclear if the virus detect was contaminate from the positive owners or if
viral replication was occurring in the dog. The new studies show a lack of evidence supporting viral replication
in dogs. So, it appears dogs can only act as a fomite. A fomite is an inanimate object on which the virus can
live. Now I know what you’re thinking “a dog isn’t an inanimate object”. In that, you would be correct. The
fomite I mention is actually a dogs fur or paw pads. If an owner sneezes or is cuddling their dog while coughing
those lipid coated virus particles will get stuck to their fur. Then that pup goes to another person to get some
lovin’ and the virus particles theoretically could transfer to the next person that pets that dog. There are
substances on dog fur that makes that transfer less likely, but for brevity we won’t get into the minutia of the
dermis and follicle composition.
Cats can be a carrier of the virus particles on their fur like dogs, but mounting evidence suggests cats can
acquire COVID-19 from people and the virus readily replicated in feline cells. The same comes from ferrets. It
came as no huge surprise because the SARS virus also affected cat. Cats are unfortunately very susceptible
to these types of Coronaviruses. Cat symptoms are very similar to ours: lethargy, fever, coughing and
dyspnea. We also have determined that cats can spread it to other cats through respiratory droplets. What’s
not clear is if they can infect people the same way.
So where does that leave us? Well if you live in an endemic area don’t let strangers get up close and personal
with your pooch. If you’re worried your social butterfly may have elicited pets from lots of people simply give
your pup a good scrub with soap and water. Soap breaks down the fat layer protecting the virus. Everything
will be fine.
Take more precautions with your outdoor kitties. If your cat is indoor only just avoid contact if you’re feeling ill.
The cat can really only get it from you. However, if you have an outdoor cat that likes to hop from house to
house in the neighborhood begging for food and you live in an endemic area, consider keeping your cat in the
house for a while. This would help minimize its contact with other humans. Just to reiterate, there is no current
evidence suggesting cats are capable of spreading the virus to humans only that they can become sick from
The general recommendations for pets is to avoid contact with them if you’re experiencing symptoms of
COVID-19. Have someone else feed and take care of them if you can. Wash your hands after petting any
animal. If you have COVID-19 and you feel your pet is having symptoms just give us a call and we will talk
about your options.