Last month, the first U.S. dog to definitively test positive for COVID-19 died in New York City. The canine—a German shepherd named Buddy—likely had lymphoma, but the case served as a reminder that pets, too, are at risk.
Now, COVID-19 cases are surging in some areas of the United States, including in places that had largely escaped the virus in the spring, and some countries around the world are grappling with renewed outbreaks. People are also wondering and worrying about their pets.
Scientists are, too. It remains unclear, for example, how often cats and dogs become infected with the virus, what their symptoms are, and how likely they are to pass it along to other animals, including us. Yet veterinarians are hard on the case, and a handful of studies are starting to provide some answers. Experts have some concrete advice based on what we know so far.
We’re a much bigger risk to our pets than they are to us.
Federal health agencies and veterinary experts have said since the beginning of the pandemic that pets are unlikely to pose a significant risk to people. Hard evidence from controlled studies for this assertion was lacking—and still is—but everything scientists have seen so far suggests cats and dogs are highly unlikely to pass SARS-CoV-2 to humans.
“There’s a lot greater risk of going to the grocery store than hanging out with your own animal,” says Scott Weese, a veterinarian at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College who specializes in emerging infectious diseases and who has dissected nearly every study on COVID-19 and pets on his blog.