Faculty Expert Comment: Highly unlikely for COVID-19 to transmit to humans from pets, livestock

April 14, 2020
Contact: Brian Consiglio, 573-882-9144, consigliob@missouri.edu

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the university’s official stance.

This is a photo of Leah Cohn

Leah Cohn is a professor of small animal internal medicine in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.

After a tiger at the Bronx Zoo recently tested positive for COVID-19, some pet owners are wondering if the respiratory disease can be transmitted from cats and dogs. While there have been nearly 2 million people worldwide infected with COVID-19, only two dogs, two cats and one tiger have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of early April.

“There’s an awful lot that we are still learning about the virus,” said Leah Cohn, professor of small animal internal medicine at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. “We have not seen a rise in respiratory diseases or infections in dogs and cats, which is an encouraging sign that the virus is not making our pets sick.”

While there have been few instances of humans transmitting the virus to animals, no evidence to date suggests domestic animals can infect humans. Out of an abundance of caution, Cohn recommends pet owners who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 avoid snuggling closely with their pets and to call a veterinarian if their pet experiences severe coughing, lethargy or diarrhea.

“Research has shown that companion animals offer us tremendous benefits emotionally, mentally and even physically,” Cohn said. “The likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus to your pet is very low, but washing your hands before and after playing with your pet is still a good idea.”

In addition to pets, livestock also seem highly unlikely to be able to transmit the novel coronavirus.

“As of now, there is no evidence to support the idea that livestock can become infected or are a source for transmitting the virus,” said John Middleton, professor of large animal internal medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “People don’t typically interact with livestock as closely or intimately as with companion animals, so the risk of transmission is very low.”

This is a photo of John Middleton

John Middleton is a professor of large animal internal medicine at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Middleton added that veterinarians are collaborating with professionals in human medicine to learn more about COVID-19 and develop antibody testing by studying people who have recovered from the disease.

“If we can learn how many people have developed antibodies and are therefore no longer at risk for spreading the virus to others, that will help us put strategies in place to prevent further spread,” Middleton said. “But as individuals we can all do our part to help slow the spread by taking simple steps like hand washing, distancing ourselves at least six feet from others and avoiding touching our eyes, nose and mouth.”

For more, see COVID-19 and Pets

To arrange an interview with Leah Cohn or John Middleton, contact Brian Consiglio at 573-882-9144 or consigliob@missouri.edu.

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