SARS-CoV-2 in Animals
The scientific name of this novel coronavirus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In people, the disease caused by the virus is called Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19. In the context of animal health, the disease is referred to as SARS-CoV-2.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recommends that people with confirmed COVID-19, or those with similar signs and symptoms, restrict contact with pets and other animals while sick, just as they would isolate themselves from other people. Although reports of animals becoming sick with COVID-19 are rare, it is recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit their contact with mammalian animals until more is known about the virus. This includes avoiding contact such as petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food while sick. Whenever possible, have a healthy member of the household care for the animal(s). People with confirmed COVID-19, or those with similar signs and symptoms, can resume contact with their animals when their home isolation ends.
The clinical spectrum of illness for the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains largely undefined in animals. Animals may present with respiratory or gastrointestinal clinical signs based on the presentation of other coronaviruses more commonly found in animals as well as other emerging coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-1 infection. Clinical signs expected to be compatible with possible SARS-CoV-2 infection in mammalian animals may include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Nasal/Ocular discharge
These clinical signs may mirror many other more common animal diseases. Given the rare reports of SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals, veterinarians are encouraged to perform a thorough medical evaluation of sick animals, including diagnostic testing for more common causes of illness suitable for the animal’s species and clinical presentation.
At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited data available, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. We are still learning about this virus, and it appears that in some rare situations, people can spread the virus to animals. Routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is currently not recommended.
Animal testing for SARS-CoV-2 is available for mammalian species in certain situations. Testing is not currently available for amphibians, reptiles, fish, or birds. Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to rule out other, more common causes of illness before considering SARS-CoV-2 testing, especially among animals without a COVID-19 exposure. Veterinarians should take a thorough history to assess for likely COVID-19 exposure or risk factors in the 2 weeks prior to symptom onset, such as whether the animal has been in contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 or an animal diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection, a person with COVID-19 compatible symptoms, or had recent exposure to a known high-risk environment, such as a nursing home.
Veterinarians who have evaluated an animal and are concerned that SARS-CoV-2 testing may be indicated are encouraged to contact Virginia’s veterinary public health officials (at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Office of the State Veterinarian (https://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/about-division-of-animal-and-food-industry-services.shtml) to discuss the case.
If the decision is made to test, based on the clinical presentation of the animal and evidence of an epidemiologic exposure to COVID-19, Virginia veterinary public health officials and animal health officials will provide guidance as to appropriate samples for collection, personal protective equipment necessary for sample collection and where samples can be sent for testing.
If an Animal Tests Positive for SARS-CoV-2: Notification and Reporting
- If an animal test is presumptive positive, veterinarians should immediately contact Virginia’s State Public Health Veterinarian (email@example.com) or the Office of the State Veterinarian regarding next steps, and the testing laboratory should contact USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) for guidance on forwarding samples for confirmatory testing. All positive test results must be confirmed by NVSL.
- If SARS-CoV-2 test results have not already been communicated to the animal’s clinical veterinarian, state animal and public health officials will notify the clinical veterinarian of the positive result.
- Investigation and response measures will be initiated based on suspected or presumptive positive test results from non-USDA NVSL laboratories.
- VDH and VDACS will communicate the suspected or presumptive positive test result to federal One Health partner agencies (CDC and USDA) in order to initiate multisectoral communication and collaboration.
- In coordination with the clinical veterinarian, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) will communicate the results to the animal’s owner and discuss public and animal health recommendations.
- Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals must be reported by USDA to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Management of the Positive Animal
At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited data available, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. We are still learning about this virus and further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by the virus and the role animals may play in the spread of COVID-19. Virginia authorities will use CDC guidance and AVMA guidance as a framework when managing animals that test positive for SARS-CoV-2.
There is no specific, approved treatment for SARS-CoV-2 in animals. At this time, supportive care, as is often the case for viral diseases, would be the mainstay of treatment.
For companion animals: An assessment of the situation will be conducted to determine if the animal can be isolated and cared for at home. Whenever possible, it is preferable for companion animals to be able to isolate at home with the people who would usually care for them. Considerations for home isolation include whether:
- The pet is stable enough to receive care at home.
- The pet owner is able to safely provide care at home.
- There is a separate room where the pet can continue to recover without sharing immediate space with other pets and people, including high-risk individuals.
- The pet owner and other household members have access to appropriate, recommended PPE (at a minimum, gloves and facemask) and are capable of adhering to precautions recommended as part of home care (e.g., hand hygiene).
- The pet owner or other person who will be the primary caretaker of the pet at home does not have conditions that would put them at increased risk of complications from COVID-19 infection.
If the pet is able to be isolated at home, the following recommendations will be reviewed with the owner and/or caretaker:
- Have the pet stay in a designated “sick room” (such as a laundry room or extra bathroom) if possible, or otherwise be separated from people and other animals. This is the same way a COVID-19 positive person would separate from others in their household.
- Limit interaction with the isolated pet as much as possible.
- If possible, the pet should use a litterbox or bathroom that is separate from other animals.
- Dogs in households with access to private areas for elimination (e.g., backyard) should not be taken on walks. When walks are unavoidable, they should be limited to bathroom breaks, and restricted to the immediate vicinity of the dog’s home. Interaction with other people or animals should be avoided.
- Cats should be kept inside in a designated area away from people and other animals. Do not allow cats positive for SARS-CoV-2 to roam outside.
- At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19, but there are other zoonotic diseases that can spread between animals and people, so it is always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals, including washing hands before and after interacting with them.
- Provide bedding, bowls or containers, treats, and toys that are separate from those used by other people or animals in the household.
- Disinfect bowls, toys, and other animal care items with an EPA-registered disinfectant and rinse thoroughly with clean water afterwards.
- Soft items like towels, blankets, and other bedding, can be safely laundered and reused. Dirty laundry that has been in contact with an ill animal can be washed with other items.
- Avoid taking the pet to human healthcare facilities, schools, dog parks, parks, groomers, and pet daycares, pet stores, boarding facilities, or similar places until the animal is cleared.
- If direct contact with the ill animal cannot be avoided, out of an abundance of caution, follow similar recommended precautions as for humans caring for other infected humans at home.
- A treatment plan will be provided from the clinical veterinarian to address the medical needs of the animal.
- A clear communication plan will be established between the owner, clinical veterinarian and state public and animal health authorities surrounding appropriate next steps to take in the event that the animal’s condition worsens.
- Isolation of the pet can be ended when the criteria for discontinuation of animal isolation are met (see below).
If the pet is unable to be isolated at home and must be isolated in a veterinary facility, the facility should have:
- A room where SARS-CoV-2 positive animals can be isolated from the rest of the patient population.
- A planned route for moving the animal from the transport vehicle to an isolation space.
- Where possible, only SARS-CoV-2 animals being evaluated and treated should be housed in this isolation space.
- Space for veterinary personnel to don and doff PPE prior to entering the room and immediately upon exiting. Alcohol-based hand rub, or a sink with soap and water (preferred) should be easily accessible and used before donning and immediately after doffing PPE.
- Availability of an adequate amount of appropriate PPE for the projected duration of hospitalization. Consider utilizing reusable PPE when available.
- Veterinarians and veterinary staff should follow appropriate PPE guidance when providing care to sick, test positive animals.
- Plans for limiting the number of veterinary clinic staff that have contact with the animal and maintaining a log of all personnel who have had contact with the animal for occupational health monitoring.
- Ability to clean and disinfect the area with EPA-registered disinfectants.
- Rules to limit or prohibit visitors and additional clinic or hospital traffic in the area(s) where sick, test-positive household animals are being housed and treated.
Exotic animals: An assessment of the situation will be conducted to see where the affected animal(s) can best be isolated and cared for. Consideration will be given to:
- The animal’s clinical condition.
- The existing facilities available to safely house the animal.
- The ability to separate healthy animals from those with clinical illness and/or have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
- The availability of skilled caretakers for that animal who have access to appropriate PPE and are not themselves at increased risk of complications from COVID-19 infection.
- The ability to limit the number of people in contact with affected animals.
Livestock: To date, there have been no reports of SARS-CoV-2 in livestock species. If such an animal was found to be positive, Virginia would default to guidance provided by the USDA.
Criteria for Discontinuation of Animal Isolation
The CDC non-test based criteria, as outlined in When a pet can resume normal activities in the Interim Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Veterinary Clinics During the COVID-19 Response, will generally be applied. According to these criteria, monitoring, isolation, and movement restrictions on SARS-CoV-2 positive animals can end if these two things have happened:
- The animal has not shown clinical signs consistent with SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 72 hours without medical management;
- It has been at least 14 days since their last positive test from a lab that uses a validated SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR diagnostic assay.
Contact Virginia’s veterinary public health officials (at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) or the Office of the State Veterinarian with any questions about additional testing.
Recommendations for Human Contacts
People who have been in close, prolonged contact with an animal that tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 should be provided with general information about COVID-19 and animals. It is not thought that animals are a significant source of SARS-CoV-2 for people. As a precautionary measure, it is recommended that people who have been exposed to an animal with SARS-CoV-2 should follow should follow similar recommendations to those caring for a sick person such as stay home as much as possible, practice social distancing and monitor their health for a period of 14 days after their last exposure to the animal. If the person is continuing to provide care for the animal while the animal is under movement and monitoring restrictions, the person should follow similar social distancing and self-monitoring guidance, both while providing care for the animal and for a 14-day period from the time that restrictions are lifted from the animal.
If people develop signs of COVID-19 during their 14-day self-monitoring period (such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle pain, shortness of breath, or new loss of taste or smell), they should immediately isolate themselves at home and contact their local health department.
For more information on what to do if you were potentially exposed to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), visit the VDH website: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/coronavirus/local-exposure/.
Recommendations for Animal Contacts
Owners of animals that have been in close, prolonged contact with an animal that tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 should be provided with general information about COVID-19 and animals. It is not thought that animals are a significant source of SARS-CoV-2 for people.
As a precautionary measure, people caring for animal contacts during the 14-day period after the last exposure to a positive animal can utilize barrier precautions (facemask, gloves) when caring for the animal contacts. Those at high-risk for severe disease from COVID-19 can consider not caring for animal contacts until the 14-day post-exposure time period is over. The number of people in direct contact with animal contacts should ideally be limited during this 14-day time period. People who do come into contact with these animals should practice healthy habits, including good hand hygiene. The number of other animals that these animals interact with should ideally also be limited during this time.
Page Last Reviewed: September 22, 2020