After Pug Tests Positive, What Does Coronavirus Mean For Pets?

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A pug at PugFest Manchester, a festival celebrating their existence. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)
A pug at PugFest Manchester, a festival celebrating their existence. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention renewed their calls for social distancing between pets and humans after a pug in North Carolina tested positive for the coronavirus.

Winston the pug is believed to be the first case of the virus in a dog in the U.S. He showed minor symptoms including a small cough and refusing to eat his breakfast, but now his owners say he’s doing well.

Three members of Winston’s family tested positive for COVID-19. Evidence points to humans giving Winston the virus, says Dr. Will Sander, assistant professor of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

Last month, a couple of dogs in Hong Kong also tested positive. The CDC confirmed two cats in New York had contracted the virus last week. And the virus isn’t just impacting pets: Eight lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo have tested positive.

One may assume Winston got sick because pugs are known for having respiratory issues due to their short snouts, but Winston’s family also owns another pug and a cat — who both tested negative. While many unknown factors remain, Sander says every case depends on the individual, human or animal.

“If it's in the environment, it's possible that pets can pick it up, especially when they're in close contact with their owners,” he says. “It depends, just like in people. Not every person is going to get sick with COVID-19, even if they get in contact with somebody who has it.”

For owners everywhere, pets are beloved family members. Though pets may want to express their “undying love” through kisses and cuddles, Sander agrees with the CDC recommendation of creating distance between pets and their sick owners.

The best guidance from the CDC is having someone else in the house take care of your pet while you’re sick, he says.

“If you are having respiratory signs, having a fever, tested positive for COVID-19, then you should try and distance yourself from your pets,” he says. “Wear a mask around them. Wash your hands before and after touching or handling them. Don't kiss them while you're sick.”

For owners concerned about their pet’s health, Sander says don’t be afraid to take animals into the vet if they develop a cough or other symptoms. Veterinary clinics are considered essential services in most states and remain open, he says.

Before bringing your pet in for a check-up, he recommends giving your vet a call to talk through the symptoms since many different things can cause coughing or runny nose.

Researchers believe COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumps from animals to people, which likely stemmed from bats. But it’s difficult for the virus to jump from one species to another, he says.

For a human to contract coronavirus from a pet, he says several jumps between species would need to happen, each one making it “progressively more difficult biologically” for the virus.

While pets can contract the virus from humans, only a handful of pets across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19 compared to over 3 million humans. This means human to pet transmission isn’t a rampant problem, he says.

“The risk is very small for us to transmit it to them and non-existent for them to transmit it back to us,” he says. “We should more often than not take comfort in our pets and not be afraid that we're gonna either cause them harm or that they will spread something to us.”

Coronavirus And Pets: FAQs For Owners

Chris Bentley produced and edited this story for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on April 30, 2020.


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