Your Pets Can Get COVID-19, Too

pets and covid

Verywell Health / Laura Porter

Key Takeaways

  • Humans can spread COVID-19 to pets and animals including cats, dogs, and deer. 
  • Experts say if more animals continue to get the virus, it can prolong the pandemic.
  • Following general health protocols and getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the spread.

Animals can get infected with COVID-19 through close contact, too. But the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is low and it’s extremely rare for pets to get seriously ill from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Andrew Bowman, DVM, PhD, MS, an associate professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University, told Verywell that the risk of pets spreading COVID-19 to humans is an “unquantified risk at this point.”

"It certainly has happened, but I don’t think we have enough information to say how likely it is to happen,” Bowman said. “We also don’t know the risk factors around what makes it more or less likely to happen in ways to potentially mitigate it.”

Around the world, there have been reports of animals being infected with COVID-19, from companion animals like cats and dogs to others like hyenas and white-tailed deer. Most of these animals became infected after coming in contact with people who had COVID-19, including owners and caretakers.

“For the most part, we’ve seen fairly limited diseases in those animals. That’s not to say those animals that have become infected haven't gotten sick or quite ill,” Bowman said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says that 115 cats and 81 dogs worldwide had reportedly been infected with COVID-19 as of March 2021.

In the United States, recent data from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) found infections had been reported in 110 cats and 95 dogs. The agency also reported confirmed cases in 51 tigers, 49 lions, and 14 gorillas.

What Does This Mean for the Pandemic?

While cases are low in house pets and other animals, experts believe infections spreading to other species could extend the pandemic.

Suresh Kuchipudi, PhD, a virologist at Pennsylvania State University, told Verywell if the virus continues to find other hosts to live in, it could become almost impossible to locate the virus and complicate the control over COVID-19.

“As we see with deer, they’re picking up infection from people and giving it to each other, but what we don’t know is who else they’re giving it to,” Kuchipudi said. “This creates a complicated transmission network where the virus can continue to circulate and keep changing, leading to more opportunities for the virus to evolve and jump back into human populations.”

Researchers also worry that widespread transmission of the virus, especially in deer, could lead to more mutations and the risk of creating new variants. They could retain variants that are no longer transmitting in humans now and allow them to return later.

The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine says there have been no documented cases of COVID-19 infection in livestock. While researchers at Colorado State University have deliberately infected livestock—including cattle, sheep, goats, and a horse—none of the animals were found to shed the virus nasally, orally, or rectally. This suggests that livestock are unlikely to spread COVID-19 to humans. In addition, the USDA has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19 in livestock animals.

Kuchipudi said livestock animals aren’t a good host for the virus based on current information. “For cattle and pigs, the virus isn’t able to bind effectively to these animals and infect their cells,” she said.

How Do I Know If My Pets Have COVID-19?

Pets that are sick with the virus may have symptoms like fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, runny nose, eye discharge, vomiting, and diarrhea, according to the CDC.

“In some cases, we may not know because they may not show any symptoms, but there are a number of cases where dogs and cats have been infected and showed signs of coughing and respiratory symptoms,” said Kuchipudi.

Of the pets that have gotten sick, most only had mild illness and fully recovered, according to the CDC.

If your pet has been infected with the virus, the CDC recommends calling your veterinarian to discuss the best treatment options. 

More studies and research must be conducted to better understand other animals that are susceptible to the virus and the risk of animal-to-human transmission.

Lyndsay Cole, assistant director of public affairs at APHIS, told Verywell in an email that the USDA has received funding to answer many questions that are still unknown about COVID-19 in animals. 

Cole said USDA experts are still trying to understand how the virus behaves in various animals and what we can do to interrupt the chain of transmission.

Kuchipudi added that the best way to control and prevent spread from humans to other animals is to follow general COVID-19 protocols, such as masking, isolating if exposed, and getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

"It’s important for people to do their part to mitigate the spread of the virus,” Kuchipudi said. “Get vaccinated and follow the other measures that are not just critical to other humans but animals and the environment that we love.” 

What This Means For You

Humans can transmit COVID-19 to their pets through close contact. Pets that have gotten sick only had a mild illness or fully recovered.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Animals and COVID-19.

  2. American Veterinary Medical Association. SARS-CoV-2 in animals.

  3. USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States.

  4. Chandler JC, Bevins SN, Ellis JW, et al. SARS-CoV-2 exposure in wild white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021;118(47):e2114828118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2114828118

  5. Bosco-Lauth AM, Walker A, Guilbert L, et al. Susceptibility of livestock to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Emerg Microbes Infect. 2021;10(1):2199-2201. doi:10.1080/22221751.2021.2003724

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What you should know about COVID-19 and pets.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.