Vets urge Covid-19 infected people to avoid contact with their pets

Vets urge people infected with Covid-19 to avoid contact with their PETS – as research reveals coronavirus is common in cats and dogs whose owners have the disease

  • Vets in the Netherlands tested 310 pets living in households with coronavirus
  • They found just 4 per cent had a positive PCR test and all were asymptomatic
  • About 17 per cent had evidence of virus antibodies in their system, they found
  • The team say pets don’t pose a risk to humans now, but could in the future
  • They say there is a potential risk dogs and cats could act as a ‘reservoir’ for the virus and reinfect humans who have already had the virus or in the future

Coronavirus is common in cats and dogs if their owners have the virus, vets have warned, claiming people should avoid their pets if they catch the disease. 

Swabs from 310 pets in 196 homes where at least one human had been infected with Covid were taken by researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Out of the pets six cats and seven dogs triggered a positive PCR test and another 54 had evidence of virus antibodies in their system. 

Owners passing Covid-19 on to pets is a ‘negligible risk to public health’, according to researchers, but there is a possibility they could become a ‘reservoir’ and reintroduce it to humans after it has left the human population.

The main concern, according to study author Dr Els Broens, isn’t the health of the animal as they have mild or no symptoms, but rather the future risk to humans. 

Coronavirus is common in cats and dogs if their owners have the virus, vets have warned, claiming people should avoid their pets if they catch the disease. Stock image


The exact source of Covid-19 is unknown, according to the CDC, ‘but we know that it originally came from an animal, likely a bat.’

At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus, the CDC added.

Studies suggest that while animals can develop virus antibodies, the risk of passing it to humans, or between other animals is very low.

‘We are still learning about this virus, but we know that it can spread from people to animals in some situations, especially during close contact,’ the CDC has warned.

‘People with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife.’

There is a risk of animals, particularly domestic pets, becoming a ‘reservoir’ for the virus, allowing it to be spread back to humans even after it has been removed from human populations. 

The team found no evidence of the virus passing between pets, but Dr Broens says people should still avoid their pets ‘just as you would do with other people.’ 

They analysed the PCR test results of 156 dogs and 154 cats from 196 households. finding just 4.2 per cent had positive tests and 17 per cent had antibodies. 

‘The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health – they had no or mild symptoms of Covid-19 – but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population,’ said Dr Broens.

‘Despite the rather high prevalence among pets from Covid-19 positive households in this study, it seems unlikely that pets play a role in the pandemic.’ 

Eight cats and dogs that lived in the same homes as the PCR-positive pets were also tested for a second time to check for virus transmission among pets. 

None of the animals tested positive, suggesting the virus was not being passed between pets living in close contact with one another.

But researchers said their findings show that Covid-19 is highly prevalent in pets of people who have had the disease.

Meanwhile, separate research suggests that cats that sleep on their owner’s bed may be at particular risk of getting Covid-19 infection from their owners.

Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Canada, who presented the findings, said: ‘If someone has Covid-19 there is a surprisingly high chance they will pass it on to their pet.’

Cats, especially those that sleep on their owner’s bed, seem to be particularly vulnerable, Professor Bienzle explained, adding to other voices urging owners to ‘keep your distance’ from a pet if you catch the virus. 

Bienzle also recommends keeping coronavirus-infected pets away from other people and pets, as evidence is limited on whether the virus can spread between pets. 

‘Similarly, although pets have not been shown to pass the virus back to people, the possibility can’t be completely ruled out.’

Commenting on the findings, Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, said they add to existing evidence.

He said that both studies are consistent with ‘a growing number of studies that are suggesting that a substantial proportion of pet cats and dogs may catch Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes Covid-19) from their owners’.

Swabs from 310 pets in 196 homes where at least one human had been infected with Covid were taken by researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Stock image

He added: ‘Cats and dogs may commonly be infected with the virus, but most reports are that this infection appears to be asymptomatic.

‘It also seems that the virus does not normally transmit from dogs and cats to either other animals or their owners.

‘These studies need to be differentiated from earlier work that has reported a very small number of individual cats and dogs to be unwell after they caught Covid-19 from their owners.’

The research was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) but has not yet been published in a journal. 


Zoonotic diseases are able to pass from one species to another.

The infecting agent – called a pathogen – in these diseases is able to cross the species border and still survive. 

They range in potency, and are often less dangerous in one species than they are in another. 

In order to be successful they rely on long and direct contact with different animals.  

Common examples are the strains of influenza that have adapted to survive in humans from various different host animals. 

H5N1, H7N9 and H5N6 are all strains of avian influenza which originated in birds and infected humans.

These cases are rare but outbreaks do occur when a person has prolonged, direct exposure with infected animals. 

The flu strain is also incapable of passing from human to human once a person is infected.  

A 2009 outbreak of swine flu – H1N1 – was considered a pandemic and governments spent millions developing ‘tamiflu’ to stop the spread of the disease. 

Influenza is zoonotic because, as a virus, it can rapidly evolve and change its shape and structure.  

There are examples of other zoonotic diseases, such as chlamydia. 

Chlamydia is a bacteria that has many different strains in the general family. 

This has been known to happen with some specific strains, Chlamydia abortus for example.

This specific bacteria can cause abortion in small ruminants, and if transmitted to a human can result in abortions, premature births and life-threatening illnesses in pregnant women.

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