Experiences and research over the last several months have identified some animal species with varying susceptibility to infection with COVID-19. Mustelids, such as ferrets and mink, appear most susceptible and infection can result in severe clinical symptoms and death, as evidenced by current outbreaks on mink farms in the Netherlands and Denmark. The mink outbreaks have resulted in infection of at least two people, which is the only documented evidence of animal-to-human transmission of the virus. Felines, such as house cats and tigers, are also susceptible to infection; most seem to be asymptomatic although cases of comparatively mild clinical symptoms have been identified. The virus will transmit among feline populations but is not known to spread from cats to humans. Hamsters can also become infected, and the virus will spread amongst hamster populations. Infection in dogs has been documented less frequently, with confirmation of clinical disease in only one case to date and no evidence of spread between animals.
It is considered very unlikely that an animal would be a source of infection for humans. To date, all reports of animals becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 are believed to be cases of human-to-animal transmission, usually from an infected owner to their pet dog or cat. If any person has COVID-19 symptoms or is self-isolating due to contact with a COVID-19 case, they should follow similar recommendations around their animals, as they would around people in these circumstances:
- Avoid close contact (petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sharing food) with their animals during their illness.
- Practise good handwashing and avoid coughing and sneezing on animals.
- If possible, have another member of their household care for their animals.
- If this is not possible, they should always wash their hands before and after touching their animals, their food and supplies.
- Restrict their animal's contact with other people and animals outside the household until their illness is resolved or they are no longer required by public health to self-isolate (approximately 14 days).
- Cats should remain indoors at all times.
- Dogs should be kept on a leash or within a private fenced area when taken outside for elimination activities, and kept away from other animals and people.
An additional risk to animals is what will happen to them if their owners become ill and are unable to take care of them. You can help reduce these concerns by planning for your pet's care in advance. This includes identifying a family member or friend who will care for your animals if you become ill or are hospitalized. Animal owners should also keep crates, food, and extra supplies on hand in case you are required to stay home for an extended period of time. As always, help protect your animals by making sure all their vaccinations are up to date and that pets have a collar and identification tag. This will help ensure your pet is returned home safely, should it need to be moved from your home because you are unable to care for it yourself.
Livestock and poultry producers have similar concerns about caring for their animals if they or their staff become ill. Producers should be having discussions with their families and employees about who can help care for the animals should someone become ill. Producers should also arrange alternatives for animal care when employees are sick or required to self-isolate for a period of time. Planning should include identifying the minimum level of care that is necessary to maintain the health and welfare of the animals, and making arrangements in advance with friends, family or neighbours for getting a "helping hand" when needed.