Dog Health

What You Need to Know about Dogs and Coronavirus

Can Dogs Get Coronavirus?

A handful of dogs around the world have tested positive to the virus, most have shown no or mild symptoms. The pets were infected by their owners who also tested positive.

The CDC and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) maintain that there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of the virus to humans. The World Organisation for Animal Health have stated: “To date, there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.”

Can Dogs Spread Coronavirus?

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Organisation for Animal Health have made statements saying there’s no evidence pets can spread the virus.

But health authorities strongly advises that if a household has confirmed cases pets must be fully quarantined along with everyone else as a precaution.

Can Dogs Die From It?

This is still unclear. Sadly Buddy, the first dog in the US diagnosed with COVID-19, did pass away. But veterinary records show the German Shepard likely had lymphoma, a type of cancer. So it’s unclear if or how COVID-19 contributed to his death. When he died Buddy had tested negative to COVID-10. But it’s believed that it toll a took on his body, which may have worsened his cancer symptoms.

Understandably, his owners have been critical of health experts who they claim didn’t investigate the connections between COVID and his existing health issues deeply enough. Buddy was infected by his COVID-positve owner, and was at first expected to recover fully. In most other cases, dogs who have been affected have presented mild symptoms, recovered, and not been linked to spread. Animal infection is also still very rare, for example: while more than four million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States fewer than 25 pets have.

But I Heard About “Dog Coronavirus”?

That’s a different virus that doesn’t infect humans. You can read about it here, but honestly it’s not really worth worrying about.

What about Those Dogs in Hong Kong?

One of the first accounts of COVID-19 impacting pets were two dogs in Hong Kong tested positive to COVID-19. In both cases the dogs showed no symptoms. As mentioned, health authorities don’t believe dogs are able to spread the disease to humans.

Very sadly, the first dog that tested positive did pass away a few days after being released from quarantine. But, like Buddy, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said this wasn’t proven to be related to the virus. A source told the South China Morning Post said it most likely died of old age or another underlying illnesses.

Should My Dog Wear a Face Mask?

No. Your dog isn’t believed to be at risk of infection or spread. A face mask will probably only freak them out.

For humans, masks are a great way to control community spread. They’re also currently manditory in Melbourne. If your dog is struggling to adjust, we have some advice.

What Do I Do If My Dog Seems Sick?

Do what you normally do, call your vet and get their advice on next steps.

What If I Need to Quarantine?

The World Organisation for Animal Health advises that if you’re infected or suspected of being infected, you should avoid close contact with your pets. If you live with other people, have them feed and care for them. If that’s not possible, exercise good hygiene:wash your hands before and after contact, and wear a face mask if you have one.

In general, they continue to stress: “When handling and caring for animals, basic hygiene measures should always be implemented. This includes hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.”

Should I Buy Extra Supplies to Be Safe?

No. Panic buying is causing disruptions of supply chains and stopping people who actually need products from being able to buy them. Even if you were placed under quarantine you’d still be able to order food online.

What Can I Do Right Now?

Follow the guidelines in place for your State. But in general isolate and get tested if you’re unwell, social distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands. 

For a more detailed breakdown of responsible actions to take, check out this guide from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Can Dogs Smell Coronavirus?

As wild as it sounds, maybe. Dogs’ incredible sense of smell is already used to detect malaria, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Now trials are being carried out at Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to see if they can pick up the odour of Covid-19 too.

Speaking to the Independent, Professor James Logan, from the LSHTM, said: “We know that other respiratory diseases, like Covid-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it.”

If successful, it’s believed that dogs could be trained to detect the disease in six weeks, offering a fast, non-invasive alternative to test kits. Currently, dogs using smell to detect malaria infection have returned an accuracy rate above the World Health Organisation standards for a diagnostic.

*UPDATE 3/08/2020: This article was updated to include information about Buddy’s death and reflect the current health and safety advice.

UPDATE 31/3/2020: This article was updated to include reports of dogs being trained to smell coronavirus.

*UPDATE 16/3/2020: This article has been updated to include statements from the World Organisation for Animal Health, and added information about quarantining with a pet.

Since publication, the World Health Organisation have removed the section covering companion animals from the “myth-buster” page of their website. But in a statement to Quartz they said: “currently, there is no evidence that pets such as dogs and cats have infected humans with Covid-19.”

UPDATE 23/3/2020: This article was updated to include information about the second dog in Hong Kong to test positive to coronavirus. It also added information about the death of the first dog that tested positive. The death hasn’t been linked to the virus.

Health professionals still don’t believe dogs can spread the virus to humans.

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Written by Wendy Syfret
Wendy is Head of Media at Scratch. Which is a good fit, because she's never met a dog she didn't like. Although she has a special place in her heart for muts: three legs, one eye, missing fur, bit of a weird walk? The scruffier the better. Her favourite dog in the whole world though is her terrier-mix Stevie.