The pet parents’ concern of COVID-19 and how it might affect their pets has heightened in the past few weeks.  Recently, we have heard multiple news stories of animals contracting this virus.

First, there were dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium.  Then the infamous story of the tiger and other large cats at the Bronx Zoo.  A mink farm in the Netherlands came next.  Now more stories of companion animals – cats, dogs, hamsters, and ferrets – in the United States and elsewhere contracting the new coronavirus.

What does this all mean for your pets?  Let’s do a quick Q&A with some fact-based information.

Do pets become infected and ill with the new coronavirus?  Yes, but the probability is low.  Despite the current worldwide human pandemic with millions sick and hundreds of thousands dead, we have not seen an increase in animal illness or death.  However, information is limited and we are still learning how this virus will behave in animals.  At this time, there is evidence that dogs, cats, ferrets, and hamsters have some level of susceptibility to this virus.

What are the signs of COVID-19 in pets?  Symptoms in pets may be respiratory, such as coughing or sneezing, or gastrointestinal with vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite.  Affected animals may also be lethargic and febrile.  Cats appear to be more susceptible to illness than dogs.  There are no reports of pets dying of COVID-19.

Can pets transmit the coronavirus?  This pandemic is driven by person-to-person transmission.  To date, there have not been any reports of animals transmitting the virus to people.  There is evidence, however, that cats, ferrets, and hamsters may spread the virus to other animals of the same species.  This has not yet been observed in dogs.  Keep in mind, though, that information is still limited.

Should my pet’s routine be any different during this time?  The CDC recommends that families include pets with their social isolation practices.  Dogs should be walked on leashes and kept at least six feet from other dogs and people.  Avoid doggy playdates and dog parks where interaction is inevitable.  Keep cats indoors.

If someone in the family is sick with suspected COVID-19, how should they manage the pets at home?  Apply the same quarantine rules to the pet as you would other family members.  Do not let pets interact with people or other pets outside the home.  If possible, the sick person should not handle pets, including feeding, snuggling, or kissing their pet.

Is it possible to have my pet tested for COVID-19?  Several commercial veterinary laboratories now offer a test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in people.  However, your veterinarian must obtain permission from public health officials to submit this test.

The CDC website is a valuable resource for pet owners with COVID-19-related questions.  This site has multiple pages dedicated to this topic and it is regularly updated.  The CDC’s “If You Have Pets” page can be found at

With the focus on the new coronavirus, it’s easy to forget other common seasonal health hazards for pets.  Winter is over and the days are getting warmer.  Parasites flourish in this weather.

If you are not using tick prevention with your pets, it’s time to start, pronto!  This is especially important for dogs and cats that go outdoors.

Ticks are abundant at this time of year.  Besides being creepy and crawly, they spread illness such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.  The older tick prevention options were pesticides formulated in topical drops and collars.  Unfortunately, their use on pets also exposed family members to the pesticides.  Nowadays, there are multiple choices for safe and effective FDA-approved medicine to protect Fido and Fluffy from ticks without exposing the family to pesticides.  Your veterinary team can advise you on the best options for your pet.

Along with ticks, also consider flea prevention.  These pesky critters find their way into homes and can cause an infestation before you know it.  Fleas multiply rapidly in warm and humid environments.  The immature flea pupae may have been lying dormant in your house all winter, waiting for spring before starting their party.  Fleas also transmit tapeworms and cat scratch disease.  Fortunately, most tick prevention also addresses fleas.

Heartworm is another parasite that is more problematic in summer months.  Heartworms can be deadly.  There is a treatment for dogs but not cats.  The canine treatment, though, is costly and unpleasant.  Do your wallet and your pet a favor with regular heartworm prevention.  If you simply cannot remember Fido’s monthly heartworm medicine, you’ll be excited to know that there is now an injection that prevents heartworm for 12 months.  Ask your veterinarian for more information.

Pets help relieve stress during this challenging COVID-19 era.  Remember to protect them and keep them safe, too.