There have been some cases reported of cats, dogs and minks being infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Animals in the Netherlands are or were also infected with the virus. In almost all cases, the pet owners were also ill and tested positive for the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It is possible that the pets caught the virus from their owners. No cases are known of infected pets infecting humans, and chances of this happening are considered small. 

Cats

In the Netherlands, antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 have been found in a few cats. This means that the cats were previously infected with the virus. The virus itself was found in one cat. In most cases, the animals came from households with individuals who had COVID-19. In addition, farm cats on a number of infected mink farms were infected with the virus. 

Subsequent investigation among cats in shelters and cats from households with no link to COVID-19 patients found that some animals had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and thus had previously been infected, but none of these animals tested positive for the virus.

Dogs and other cuddly pets

Dogs can become infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Most likely, a dog cannot transmit the virus to another dog. There is no evidence that a dog that is infected with SARS-CoV-2 can transmit it to a human. In the Netherlands, antibodies against the virus were detected in a few dogs. This means that these animals were previously infected with the virus. The virus itself was found in one other dog. In most cases, the dogs came from a household with someone who had COVID-19.

It is known that hamsters, ferrets and rabbits can also become infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Animal-to-human infection

In the Netherlands, there have been a few cases of possible animal-to-human transmission. These infections took place on mink farms where minks were infected with the virus. Employees working at the farms took care of the minks when it was not yet known that the animals were infected. Several of the employees may have contracted the virus from the minks. 

Since it was found that the virus could circulate on mink farms for an extended period of time, and to prevent mink farms from becoming a persistent source of infection for humans in the long term, the Cabinet brought forward the ban on fur farming. As of 8 January 2021, it is illegal to farm minks for fur production. It is very unlikely that household pets will become infected with the virus and play a role in spreading the virus. That risk is currently much smaller than the chance that people will infect each other. Additional precautionary measures apply to all non-infected mink farms in the Netherlands, such as a ban on transporting mink, a ban on visitors to the stables, a hygiene protocol, and the obligation to keep other animals (dogs, cats and ferrets) from entering or leaving the farm as much as possible.

Recommendations for owners of cuddly pets

  • If no one in the household has symptoms, including the pet.
    In that case, there is no need to take measures for contact with pets (including cuddly pets). Good hygiene is still important. The pet can go outside as usual.
  • If the pet becomes ill but no one in the household has any symptoms.
    In that case, the animal is assumed not to be infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Good hygiene is still important. The pet can go outside as usual. Consult a veterinarian if necessary.
  • If someone in the household has symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 but the pet is not ill.
    There is little chance of your pet becoming ill. We do offer some precautionary recommendations. If you have symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 (cold symptoms (such as nasal cold, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat), coughing, shortness of breath, elevated temperature or fever, or sudden loss of smell and/or taste (without nasal congestion)), you should get tested. Avoid intensive cuddling and contact with the pet until the results are known. If possible, arrange for another household member who is not ill to take care of the pet. Good hygiene is still important. The pet can go outside as usual.
  • If someone in the household has symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 and the pet is ill.
    If people in the household have symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 (cold symptoms such as nasal cold, runny nose, sneezing or sore throat; coughing, shortness of breath, elevated temperature or fever; sudden loss of smell and/or taste without nasal congestion), and the pet also develops symptoms that could indicate COVID-19, there is a small chance that the animal is infected. The advice is to keep the animal indoors (as much as possible). Do not let the pet roam free outside the house. Good hygiene is very important. Make sure that the animal does not go to any locations where many animals are together in the same space (play centre, kennel, shelter). If the animal has severe shortness of breath and/or diarrhoea, call the veterinarian. The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority will decide in consultation with the veterinarian whether additional testing or examination will take place.

The chance that people will catch the virus from the pet is much smaller than the chance that they will catch it from other people in their household. It is advisable for all people in the household who have symptoms to get tested and avoid intensive contact with the ill animal.

Other animals and COVID-19

Research shows that pigs, chickens and ducks cannot catch the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. As far as we know now, other animals such as cows, sheep, goats, horses and rats probably cannot catch it either. Ferrets, and therefore also minks, are susceptible to infection with COVID-19. The coronavirus was detected at a large number of mink farms; since then, the minks have been culled. Researchers are investigating how the animals at the mink farms were infected.

What is RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment doing?

In the Netherlands, we are alert to new and existing diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. Just as humans can catch infectious diseases, animals can also become infected. A small proportion of infectious diseases that animals can catch are also infectious to humans; these are known as zoonoses. Sometimes animals can also catch infectious diseases from humans; these are known as anthropozoonoses.

For that reason, we are also looking at the extent to which animals can become infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and play a role in spreading the virus. RIVM is working with various professionals, including experts in healthcare and veterinary medicine.

Questions about pets

Can my pet become infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2?

There have been cases of pets infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 worldwide, including a few dogs and cats in the Netherlands. In almost all cases, the pet owners were also ill and tested positive for the coronavirus. The chance of a pet becoming infected and then infecting a human is very small compared to human-to-human infection.

What does it mean for my pet if I have symptoms?

Although there is only a small chance of pets becoming infected with the coronavirus, if you do have symptoms, it is advisable to avoid intensive contact with pets (do not let them lick you or cuddle with you, but you can stroke their fur). You should preferably leave the care of pets to people without symptoms, who should observe the general hygiene measures for handling pets (wash hands regularly and do not let the pets lick the people caring for them). Dogs of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and people with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 can be walked by people without symptoms, and are permitted to have contact with other dogs while they are being walked. The spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 worldwide at this time is caused by human-to-human transmission.

Can I walk the dog?

If you do not have any symptoms, such as a nasal cold, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, shortness of breath and/or fever, you can walk your dog as usual. If you do have one or more of these symptoms, ask someone else to walk your dog. Anyone who walks the dog should comply with the general preventive measure to keep 1.5 metres away from other people. Dogs are permitted to have contact with other dogs while they are being walked.

Are there animals in the Netherlands that are infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2?

There have been a few cases reported of animals that have the coronavirus. Antibodies against the coronavirus were detected in one dog and a few cats. This means that the dog was previously infected with the virus. The actual virus has been found in one dog and one cat. The animals were probably infected by their owner, who had COVID-19. In addition, the virus was found at mink farms where animals showed respiratory and intestinal symptoms. Antibodies for the virus were also found in several cats that were present at one of these farms.

Can animals transmit the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2to humans?

In the Netherlands, there have been several reports of possible animal-to-human transmission. These infections took place on mink farms where minks were infected with the virus. Several of the employees may have contracted the virus from the minks. Since the virus could potentially circulate at a mink farm for a longer period, these farms will be culled.

It is very unlikely that household pets will become infected with the virus and play a role in spreading the virus. That risk is currently much smaller than the chance that people will infect each other.