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Is Your Pet Carrying COVID? 

When panic hit in March 1918, the Spanish Flu had just begun to rear its ugly head in the United States. The Germ Theory of Disease was barely 2 generations old and knowledge about transmission was limited. Animal vectors were one of the proposed mechanisms for the spread of the flu and blame soon fell on the family pet. Photos of the time show mask-wearing cats with their owners and in two cases masked dogs made the headlines of their local paper. Animals soon became the scapegoats however, and both police and owners soon began killing cats and dogs across the country(1). When the virus COVID-19 made its appearance late last year it did not take long for history to repeat itself.

Clara Medalen

Clara Medalen

The first pet tested for COVID belonged to a COVID positive family in Hong Kong. One of two of the family dogs tested a weak positive for the virus on 3 consecutive tests. The dog reportedly showed no symptoms of the illness. This pattern played out in another household when one dog tested positive while the other never did despite being quarantined together2. The virus also reportedly infected tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo but no definite answers as to how they contracted it or whether it could be passed on to humans have come to light3.

While few animals have been outright killed in fear of passing on the virus, many are being abandoned. Humane Society International estimates that tens of thousands of animals have been abandoned in apartments and houses in Hubei province of China alone. Many of these animals were left home when their owners were forced to temporarily evacuate with the thought that they would only be gone a few days. 6 weeks later and there was still no sign of being able to return home. Many of these pets starved to death before help arrived. A group called the Urban Construction Administration released a statement saying it would kill cats and dogs found outdoors and officials in Hunan and Zhejiang provinces announced they would kill pets that were seen in public4.

To date there is no proof that any animal has the capability to transmit COVID to any other species including humans. In laboratory settings ferrets and cats have been found to be able to contract the coronavirus. It is able to enter their cells and replicate and is then transmittable to others of their species. This is different from what is seen in dogs, pigs, chicken and other livestock. The virus can bind to the outside of a cell but is unable to enter the cell and replicate2,4. Without proof that COVID-19 infections in animals are a threat to humans it is safe to say that Fido can stay for good.


  1. Gewen B. Virus Alert. The New York TImes. 2004.
  2. Goumenou M, Spandidos D, Tsatsakis A. [Editorial] Possibility of transmission through dogs being a contributing factor to the extreme Covid‑19 outbreak in North Italy. Molecular Medicine Reports. 2020;
  3. Mathavarajah S, Dellaire G. Lions, Tigers and Kittens too: ACE2 and susceptibility to CoVID-19. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health. 2020;
  4. Parry NM. COVID-19 and pets: When pandemic meets panic. Forensic Science International: Reports. 2020;2:100090.
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