Coronavirus: What pet owners need to know
In the corona pandemic and with the spread of the infectious disease COVID-19, there is also fear of infection from and by animals - many people are unsettled and animal lovers are wondering: Can my pet transmit the coronavirus or COVID-19? Who will look after my animal in the event of quarantine or isolation? And can I walk my dog during isolation or quarantine?
We provide an overview of current rules and known facts according to the current state of knowledge - and clean up with false reports.
Note: This article relates to the legal situation in Germany. In view of the special situation, we have translated our content on this topic:
The multilingual versions of the article can be found:
In general, we would like to point out that we follow the professional advice of renowned scientists: vaccinations, wearing a mask depending on the situation and keeping your distance, ensuring hygiene and using test options. This is the only way we can - with joint forces - counter the virus.
Which rules currently apply, e.g. for visiting veterinary practices, animal shelters and animal sitting?
With the change in the Infection Protection Act in March 2022, contact restrictions, the obligation to wear masks and distance requirements have largely been abolished throughout Germany. Therefore, there are no superordinate rules for visits to veterinary practices, animal shelters or contacts with animal sitters. At the same time, however, stricter, locally limited regulations will take effect if the infection situation on site requires it and the respective state parliament decides so. Regulations for mandatory basic protection, such as the obligation to wear masks in hospitals or on local public transport, can be regulated at state level and requested according to domiciliary rights.
The obligation to wear a mask, for example in veterinary practices or animal shelters, is implemented individually. Please inform yourself directly on site.
Risk of infection from and for animals
Several scientific groups worldwide are constantly researching all scientific questions relating to the coronavirus - because Sars-CoV-2 is a new virus that we still have to learn a lot about, even after around 2 years. We would therefore like to urgently point out that, given the current pressure on research, in some cases publications, theories and facts cannot be checked as intensively as usually by the scientific community usually. So it is essential to stay calm first - because every thesis has to prove itself in the scientific discourse over the long term. It can also be the case that information that is lauded as a new fact today will no longer be valid in two weeks' time. We therefore advise you to be careful when dealing with news that spreads quickly on social networks. Because unfortunately there are a lot of half-truths and false information about this topic circulating here.
The most important questions in detail:
Can pets, small animals or farm animals become infected with Sars-CoV-2 and contract Covid19? Can dogs, cats, hamsters or cattle transmit the virus to humans?
Only individual cases of SARS-CoV-2 evidence in pet animals are known worldwide. In these individual cases, the animals were most likely infected through close contact with an infected person.
A risk assessment always requires a look at the current state of science for the individual animal species, which is updated almost daily. In the following, we list what is known so far based on the latest publications by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Friedrich Löffler Institute (FLI). All studies examined around the world on allegedly infected animals are also continuously updated on the OIE website.
Our listing is as of September 2022.
Susceptibility to disease: The first reports of dogs that tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 were already spreading around the world at the end of February 2020. Since then, a few more dogs worldwide have tested positive, but the susceptibility to infection in dogs is generally classified as "low" by the OIE.
Studies indicate that dogs could get infected from their owners. The duration of contact between humans and animals is irrelevant and the course of the disease is usually mild, insofar as symptoms are noticeable at all.
Possible transmission between humans and animals as well as animal to animal: The virus has not yet been transmitted from dogs to humans or other conspecifics. Dogs are therefore seen as an "epidemiological dead end" for Sars-CoV-2.
Susceptibility to disease: Studies have found that cats can become infected with Sars-CoV-2. There are also already some cases in which cats tested positive showed symptoms of the disease.
Possible transmission between humans and animals as well as animal to animal: It has been shown in various studies that cats were able to spread the virus among conspecifics for up to five days under test conditions. It has also been proven that cats can be infected with humans. The possibility of reverse transmission, from cats to humans, was demonstrated in a scientific study in 2022. The two owners of an infected cat and an attending veterinarian tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Contact between the infected individuals was ruled out and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from the infected cat to the veterinarian was considered proven based on the result of genetic analysis of the virus. However, the scientists believe that the probability of such an infection is low due to the short duration of virus excretion in cats.
The advice to cat owners is to keep contact with the animal as low as possible in the event of their own illness and not to allow the cat to go outside during the quarantine period.
Susceptibility to disease: Tests have shown that pets such as rabbits, hamsters and ferrets can become infected with Sars-Cov-2. In golden hamsters, the virus leads to weight loss and impairment of the lungs, and in ferrets and rabbits the infection is not always asymptomatic. Guinea pigs have not yet become infected in any of the experimental trials and are therefore not considered to be susceptible to disease.
Possible transmission between humans and animals as well as animal to animal: For owners of rabbits, hamsters or ferrets, the precautionary measure should apply that - if you are infected with Sars-Cov-2 - you should avoid contact with the animal and also your animal’s contact to people and animals from outside the household as far as possible. A transmission from hamster to hamster and ferret to ferret is possible according to the OIE, but a risk of spreading from infected ferrets or hamsters to humans has not yet been proven. A spread of the virus among rabbits has not yet been proven.
So far, there is no evidence that farm animals play a special role in the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic, neither for the spread of the virus nor as a source of infection.
Susceptibility to disease: In various experimental studies, no infection was found in poultry animals, including chickens, ducks and turkeys, despite a high viral load. In experiments under laboratory conditions, infection in cattle and pigs was very difficult, which is why both are classified as less susceptible.
Possible transmission between humans and animals as well as animal to animal:
Pigs and poultry: Different studies with pigs and poultry came to the conclusion that the risk of transmission between animals and conspecifics and animals and humans is negligible.
Cattle: At the end of 2021, scientists at the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) were able to show eleven antibody-positive samples based on serological testing of a total of 1,000 samples from cattle in Germany. These suggest that cattle had been infected through contact with SARS-CoV-2-positive owners. No evidence of transmission within the species or to humans was found.
Can pets carry the coronavirus into the house from outside?
Basically, of course, every animal, just like people or objects, e.g. doorknobs, can carry a virus and thus transport it on. An infection from animals to humans and vice versa is very unlikely. Theoretically, this could only happen if the animal had previously been coughed or sneezed on by someone who is sick, for example, and the pathogen is then passed on directly from the animal to another person, who then e.g. after stroking it with his hand touches his or her face.
Important recommendations for pet owners regarding quarantine or isolation
- Take precautions in the event of preventive quarantine or isolation due to illness by planning emergency care for your animal.
- Have any necessary medication ready for the animal
What are the rules for going for a walk if I'm in isolation or quarantine?
- Persons who have had contact with someone infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus or who are entering from a high-risk or virus variant area are strongly recommended to go into domestic quarantine for five days and to reduce contact with third parties. This also means that walking the dog should not be done. The quarantine can be ordered by the authorities or it can be voluntary. The responsible local health authority is always responsible for assessing the risk of infection and thus for ordering and lifting the quarantine in individual cases.
- In the event of a confirmed illness with the coronavirus, you will immediately be placed in isolation, which is officially ordered and means that, with a few exceptions such as visiting a doctor, you should not leave the house. The end of the isolation takes place according to defined criteria.
Further information on the difference between isolation and quarantine and the applicable regulations can be found here: https://www.infection-protection.de/coronavirus/fragen-und- Answers/quarantaene-und-isolation/. You can always find the current regulations on the website of the federal government: https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/themen/coronavirus.
In the event of an officially ordered quarantine or isolation, you are generally not allowed to leave your house - not even for walks, visits to the horse or walking your dog.
In the case of both quarantine and isolation, you are not allowed to leave your house under any circumstances - not even for walks, visits to the horse or for walks with your dog.
Who will take care of my animal if I get corona or if I am in isolation or quarantine?
Which animal species you should put into care in the event of isolation or quarantine depends on the individual case: Your cat, rabbits, birds or other small animals could stay in the case of quarantine or a mild course of the disease in your home - in familiar surroundings and as a support for you. In principle, however, we recommend owners of these pets, out of sheer caution, to avoid close contact with the animal and, if necessary, to take responsibility for the care of an uninfected member of the household. Care should be taken to ensure that the animal does not sleep in bed and that cuddling and licking are avoided.
For dogs and horses, for whose care it is essential to go outside the door, trustworthy care must be guaranteed!
We recommend good preparation: Have an emergency plan ready to ensure that your pet is cared for and looked after during periods of quarantine or isolation.
- Make a preliminary arrangement with 2 to 3 trusted people that can look after your animal in the event of isolation or quarantine.
- Choose people carefully: ideally, friends or acquaintances are already familiar with your animal.
- Should you resort to professional animal care or help from the region, make sure that you familiarise these people with your animal in the event of an emergency.
- Also make sure that there is enough food and any necessary medication for your animal.
Talk openly to your friends, acquaintances, family members, neighbors or, in the case of looking after horses, other riders in the stable about your emergency planning. If you cannot find any way to look after your animal, please get support from helpful people in your region. In social media such as Twitter and Facebook, a large number of users offer their help under hashtags such as #Coronahilfe, city-specific e.g. #CoronaBerlin or in groups such as “Gassigeher bundesweit” (for Germany) and “Notfall Tierbetreuung” (for Austria).
Another option is animal boarding houses or in acute emergencies and - as a last resort - animal shelters, some of which take animals into their care for a flat fee.
Rules and handling of pets in the corona pandemic
Should animals be disinfected?
No, from an animal welfare point of view, disinfection of animals is not a viable option and we urgently advise against special cleaning measures, which are unfortunately often wrongly widespread: Dogs and cats do not have to be specially bathed and should not be disinfected at all.
Do animals also have to be tested for the new coronavirus?
In the summer of 2020, an ordinance was passed in the Bundestag according to which positive corona tests in pets are notifiable. However, this does not mean that every pet owner now has to have the animal tested. Such an obligation is not planned in the future either.
The reporting obligation only applies to tests of animals that have been tested anyway, for example because their owners were infected with the coronavirus and the animals show symptoms of infection. In these cases, a veterinarian can consider a test - and the new ordinance includes the obligation to report this to the responsible authorities in the event of a positive test result. In this case, the corona tests reported to the responsible research institutes can help to find out more about the novel virus.
Can I vaccinate my animal against the coronavirus?
Many cat owners are probably familiar with the feline coronavirus. Likewise, you may have heard that dogs can become infected with a coronavirus. Like Sars-Cov-2, these viruses belong to the coronavirus family, which is, however, very large. Their individual representatives can cause a wide variety of diseases in a wide variety of host species - and must be viewed differently. Coronaviruses in cats and dogs belong to the genus of alpha coronaviruses, while SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the genus of beta coronaviruses.
There is currently no vaccine for dogs and cats against Sars-Cov-2 in this country. The few cases in which the coronavirus has been diagnosed in dogs and cats were isolated cases that do not make vaccination necessary at this point in time.
Can I still give my cat free access?
Yes, according to the current state of research on the coronavirus, there are no restrictions here. However, if you yourself are infected or already sick, according to the Friedrich-Löffler-Institute it is advisable to avoid contact between your cat and people and animals outside the household during your isolation - and it is better not to allow your animal to go outside during this time.
Should I buy animal feed in stock?
No, there is no need to “hoard” any food or consumables. It is currently only recommended to provide for yourself and your animal in the event of illness or quarantine and to have food ready for a few days, a maximum of two weeks. But please do not exaggerate - also out of solidarity with other pet owners.
Dear pet owners: We continue to advise you to exercise caution and show solidarity. With regard to reports, we urgently ask for prudence! Check reports critically and do not share any information if the source appears dubious. If you have any questions, get professional advice from your vet.
We wish you all the best from the bottom of our hearts - stay healthy.