There have been some cases reported of cats, dogs and minks being infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Research in the Netherlands shows that dogs and cats whose owners have tested positive are more likely to have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in their blood than dogs and cats whose owners have not tested positive. It is likely that the pets were infected by the owners. There are no cases known at this time of infected pets who have infected people. The probability of this is considered very low.

Dogs and cats

In recent research in the Netherlands, antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 were found in about 1 in 5 cats and 1 in 7 dogs from households with individuals who had COVID-19. This means that these pets were previously infected with the virus. The virus itself was found in several dogs and cats. In addition, farm cats on a number of infected mink farms were infected with the virus. 

Dogs and cats that have a SARS-CoV-2 infection are usually asymptomatic or only show mild symptoms. 

Subsequent investigation then took place among cats in shelters and dogs and cats from households with no link to people who had COVID-19. Only a few animals had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and thus had previously been infected. None of these animals tested positive for the virus. This means that the chance of dogs and cats being infected with SARS-CoV-2 outside their household is very small.
There are no cases known at this time of infected dogs and cats who have infected people. The probability of this is considered very low.

Other cuddly pets

We know that hamsters, ferrets and rabbits, among others, can become infected with the coronavirus SARS-COV-2. Since these animals rarely leave the house, there is no reason to take additional precautions for these homebound animals at this time.

Animal-to-human infection

In the Netherlands, a few cases of possible animal-to-human transmission are known. 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. 

On 3 June 2020, the government decided that farms where minks tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 would be culled. It is possible that the virus could circulate on mink farms for an extended period of time, which could result in humans becoming infected. See also the Parliamentary letter with additional measures for mink farms. On 28 August 2020, the Cabinet decided that all mink farms must cease operating before the next production season (early 2021). By now, all Dutch mink farms are empty.

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 considered much lower than the risk that people will infect each other. However, precautions are advised in dogs and cats from a household with a person who has COVID-19; see below.

Recommendations for owners of dogs and cats

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.

Pet owners from a household with COVID-19 are advised to take extra precautions: 

  • Avoid contact with your pet, do not cuddle them, and do not let them lick you.
  • Keep dogs and cats indoors as much as possible during your isolation or quarantine period and/or that of your household members.*
  • Only walk dogs for a short time, and on a leash.
  • Arrange for someone in the household who is not ill to take care of the pet, if possible.
  • Good hygiene is very important.

*If cats (mostly) live outside, keep them outside as much as possible.

The chances of your pet getting sick after any infection are minimal. If your pet does develop COVID-19-related symptoms, 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. Please indicate to the veterinarian that your pet is in a household with COVID-19. Your veterinarian can consult with the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority to decide whether additional testing or examination will take place.

The chance that people will catch the virus from their pet is much smaller than the chance that they will catch it from other people in their household. It is advisable for all household members with symptoms to get tested and to avoid contact with the cat or dog as much as possible. 
 

Other pets and COVID-19

In addition to dogs, cats, hamsters, and rabbits, among others, ferrets and minks have also been found to be susceptible to infection with the virus. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was detected at a large number of mink farms; since then, all farms where minks were kept have been cleared. 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, RIVM is also looking at the extent to which animals can become infected with 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?

Worldwide, it appears that pets can become infected with SARS-CoV-2. In the Netherlands, antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 have been found in dogs and cats, indicating that they have been infected. The virus itself was also detected in several dogs and cats. In almost all cases, the pet owners also tested positive for the virus. The chance of pet-to-human transmission is very small compared to human-to-human infection.

What does it mean for my dog or cat if I or a household member has tested positive for COVID-19?

Although the chances of your dog or cat becoming infected with the virus are not high, as a precaution, it is advised to avoid contact with your dog or cat as much as possible. That means: do not cuddle with them or let them lick you. Also avoid contact between your pet and people or animals outside the household as much as possible. Keep dogs and cats indoors as much as possible. (Cats that mostly live outside should be kept outside as much as possible.) Dogs should only be walked for a short time, and on a leash. General hygiene measures for handling pets remain in effect: wash hands regularly and do not let the pets lick the people caring for them. Dogs and cats that have a SARS-CoV-2 infection are usually asymptomatic or only show mild symptoms.

Can I walk the dog if my household member has tested positive for COVID-19?

If you have not tested positive for COVID-19 and 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 for a short time, and on a leash. If you do have one or more of these symptoms, or if you tested positive, then ask someone else to walk your dog. Anyone who walks the dog should comply with the general preventive measure to keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people.

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

Antibodies against the virus were detected in both dogs and cats. This means that these animals were previously infected with the virus. The virus itself was found in several dogs and cats. The animals were most likely infected with SARS-CoV-2 by their owner. 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 dogs and cats play a role in spreading the virus. That risk is currently much smaller than the chance that people will infect each other.