Can Pets Contract Coronavirus?: Vet Advice on Dog Face Masks and How the Outbreak Affects Pets

Veterinary epidemiologist Anne Kimmerlein says "there is currently no evidence that dogs or cats can be infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)."

On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency as the coronavirus death toll and infection cases continue to rise around the world.

In response to the outbreak and its international spread, several major airlines have suspended their flights to China, the country where this coronavirus outbreak originated, and countless individuals have bought up face masks as a way to protect themselves against the outbreak.

Along with buying face masks for themselves, USA Today reports, many concerned about the coronavirus are also buying face masks for their dogs.

“We had a 300% sale increase in Amazon, which led us to run out of inventory,” Kirby Holmes, owner of K9 Mask, told the outlet.

A K9 Mask, according to Holmes, contains filters “designed using the exact recommendation the CDC suggests for humans to wear to protect against bacteria,” but the company can’t guarantee it will protect canines from the coronavirus outbreak.

Anne Kimmerlein, DVM, MPVM, DACVPM — a veterinary epidemiologist for VCA Animal Hospitals — said that, as a vet, she “would not recommend face masks for dogs,” especially using face masks meant for humans on dogs.

“While pictures of Chinese dogs wearing face masks are showing up online, there’s no scientific evidence that these masks protect dogs from either infectious diseases or air pollutant,” Kimmerlein 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.”

In addition, it is also recommended that humans skip using face masks to protect against contracting coronavirus as well.

“While it is cold and flu season, we don’t routinely recommend the use of face masks in the general public to prevent respiratory illness, and we certainly are not recommending that at this time for this new virus,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control, said in a statement.

“Wearing a mask when you’re not sick has not been proven to help protect you with this kind of illness. It’s not something that I would do at this point unless you’re in an unusual situation where you’re around someone that you know is sick, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” Dr. Angela Hewlett, the medical director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, told PEOPLE about why masks aren’t recommended for healthy individuals.

Those worried about the coronavirus outbreak affecting their pets can take some solace in that, “according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is currently no evidence that dogs or cats can be infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV),” Kimmerlein said, referring to the current outbreak by its unique name.

“While public health officials believe that 2019-nCoV probably originally emerged from an animal source, it now seems to be spreading from person-to-person. There is no reason to think that any animals or pets in the United States are at risk of contracting 2019-nCoV or are a source for infection,” she added.

The veterinarian said, as a precaution, people traveling to China should avoid contact with both live and dead animals while there and keep up to date on the new information about the 2019 novel coronavirus by visiting the CDC’s website.

While there is currently no evidence that the 2019 novel coronavirus can be transferred from humans to their pets and vice versa, Kimmerlein wants to remind pet owners that “there are other diseases that can be spread from people to pets and pets to people.”

dog wearing mask

“It is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets, especially those that do not belong to you. Other ways to avoid spreading disease between pets and people include making sure that your pets are up to date on their vaccinations and receive regular parasite control,” she advised. “Additionally, it is not a good idea to feed raw food to cats and dogs as this can put both pets and their owners at risk for common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella.”

The 2019 novel coronavirus may not be affecting pets, but Kimmerlein said that “coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in several species of domestic and wild animals including cattle, horses, dogs, cats, ferrets, camels, bats, and others.” There is a coronavirus that affects dogs, known as canine coronavirus (CCoV), and a different coronavirus that affects cats called Feline coronavirus (FCoV). Both CCoV and FCoV are unconnected to the current coronavirus outbreak.

“The most common symptom of CCoV is diarrhea, which may be accompanied by lethargy and decreased appetite. Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is often asymptomatic, but can cause mild diarrhea, especially in young kittens,” the veterinarian explained. “Rarely, a mutation of the virus can cause a disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), which causes a severe inflammatory reaction in the abdomen, kidney, or brain. While a typical FCoV infection is mild, FIP is almost always fatal.”

Overall, coronaviruses that affect cats and dogs often only create “mild clinical signs” and don’t require medical treatment. There are some cases that might require “supportive care, including replacement of lost fluids, nutritional support, and anti-nausea medication may be used for more severe cases,” Kimmerlein said

“It’s important to remember that there are many causes of diarrhea in dogs and cats,” she added. “If your pet has diarrhea that does not resolve within twenty-four hours, is bloody, or is associated with significant lethargy or loss of appetite, it is important to see your veterinarian right away so that appropriate diagnosis and treatment can occur.”

For those still concerned about the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infecting their pets, Kimmerlein provided this advice:

“At this time, the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is not a concern for pets in the United States. The best way to keep your pet healthy is regular veterinary care. Even if your pet is not showing any outward signs of disease, an annual physical exam with your veterinarian can help catch illness early and make treatment more effective. When your pet does become sick, don’t wait to see your veterinarian. In many cases, waiting until your pet’s symptoms are severe can make it that much more difficult and expensive to treat his or her illness. If you have questions about your pets, check out the AskVCA Youtube channel or talk to your regular veterinarian.”

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