Vet Urges Pet Owners to 'Not Overreact' Over Confirmed Coronavirus Cases in Cats and Dogs

News of a Bronx Zoo tiger testing positive for novel coronavirus COVID-19 and reports that several cats and dogs have tested positive for COVID-19 as well may have some pet owners concerned over what this means for their furry friends.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and the American Veterinary Medical Association have maintained that there is no evidence that domestic pets can spread COVID-19 to their owners or to other humans.

The United States Department of Agriculture echoed these beliefs in their recent statement on the Bronx Zoo tiger testing positive for coronavirus.

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people,” the USDA wrote in their statement, adding that they are monitoring the situation with the CDC.

While there is no evidence that infected animals can spread COVID-19 to humans, some pet owners might be concerned, understandably so, that their pet could become infected with COVID-19 and fall ill.

To get a better understanding of the risks COVID-19 poses to pet health, PEOPLE spoke to veterinarian Dr. Douglas Kratt, who is the president-elect of the AVMA.

“We have the cases from Hong Kong and Belgium, four cases (two cats, two dogs) — not including the Bronx Zoo tiger — that we can confirm and all of those animals were being cared for, including the tiger in New York, by people that actively had COVID-19,” Dr. Kratt told PEOPLE of the AVMA’s current understanding of confirmed COVID-19 infections in animals.

In response to the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in animals, Dr. Kratt said pet owners should keep calm and “not overreact.”

Since the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in animals appears to be low, Dr. Kratt said “it’s highly unlikely we’re going to transmit it [COVID-19] to our pets, and it’s even more unlikely that our pets would transmit it back. There’s so much evidence of person-to-person infections that we’re seeing versus the number of confirmed cases that people have given it to animals.”

The veterinarian added that the amount of coronavirus testing for pets is low, but that the animals who have contracted COVID-19 so far were “being cared for by people that actively had the COVID-19 virus” and were “in an environment where they were more at risk.”

Healthy pet owners, according to Dr. Kratt, shouldn’t treat or look at their pets differently because of these cases.

“What I’m concerned about is that people are going to think that their pets are going to play a major role in this virus. And at this point, there’s nothing to prove that that’s going to be the case,” he added.

Dr. Kratt doesn’t want pet owners to overreact to news of pet COVID-19 cases, but he does want animal lovers and their animals to stay safe.

Everyone should wash their hands before and after handling a pet, he advised, and those who are feeling ill, especially those experiencing COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, should pass on pet care duties to another family member. If there is no one else to care for your pet while you are feeling ill, Dr. Kratt recommends, in addition to washing your hands before and after handling, to avoid touching your pet’s eyes, ears, mouth, and nose, and to refrain from any unnecessary contact with your pet until you are healthy.

Wearing a mask around your pet if you are feeling ill is also an easy way to keep your pet safe. On the other hand, there is no evidence that putting a mask on your pet will help protect them from COVID-19.

“There’s no scientific evidence that these masks protect dogs from either infectious diseases or air pollutants,” Anne Kimmerlein, DVM, MPVM, DACVPM — a veterinary epidemiologist for VCA Animal Hospitals—told PEOPLE. “Dogs’ faces have a lot more variation than human faces do, meaning that a face mask designed to fit one type or breed of dog is unlikely to fit most others. Additionally, we cannot explain to a dog why we are putting something potentially scary or uncomfortable on their face.”

If your pet does become ill, veterinarians are open and available to help.

“If people feel like their pets are showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or any disease, my first recommendation is to contact their veterinarian. Veterinarians are still there. We’re still here working with clients, working with pets, trying to keep them happy and healthy,” Dr. Kratt said.

“I want people to remain calm. I don’t want them surrendering their animals because they’re concerned about coronavirus. I want them to work with their veterinarian to come up with a great plan,” he added. “And in all honesty, a great resource is AVMA.org. The AVMA is updating its front page daily with new information with respect to COVID-19 and animals and how to handle it.”

  • Reporting by DIANE HERBST

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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