Cat wearing facemask because of COVID-19.

New COVID-19 Guidelines for Pet Owners

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised Americans that cats and dogs are unlikely to contract and spread the disease. They updated their guidelines last week in response to recent news.

Social Distancing for Pets

On April 22, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that two pet cats in New York tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The cats, which live in different parts of the state, showed mild respiratory systems before testing positive. Both are expected to make a full recovery, but the news was enough to inspire a new announcement from the CDC.

The CDC now advises pet owners to “treat pets as [they] would any other family members.” This means that some social distancing guidelines should now apply to them. Cats should be kept indoors and dogs should avoid interacting with other people and animals on walks. CDC suggests maintaining a safe distance of at least six feet while outdoors. Walkers should avoid crowded dog parks and other public places. Inside the house, sick or potentially symptomatic individuals should be isolated from others — including pets.

Whenever possible, symptomatic and sick pet parents should appoint other members of their household to administer pet care. Pet owners who live alone should wear cloth masks and exercise additional caution while handling or feeding their pets. Sick owners whose pets have potentially fallen ill should not take their pet to the veterinarian without calling ahead. Many vets will offer telemedicine consultations or other services to avoid unnecessary risks.

Don’t Panic

Both the CDC and outside veterinary experts are quick to remind pet owners that they are making these suggestions out of an abundance of caution. There is still no evidence to suggest pets are playing a major role in the COVID-19 outbreak or that pet owners face an elevated level of risk. “Based on the limited information available,” the new guidelines read, “the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.”

Dr. Sandra Newbury, Director of the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin, echoes the CDC by encouraging caution, acknowledging the need for additional research, and reminding pet owners to remain calm. Speaking to ABC News, Newbury says, “Although it’s not easy, avoiding petting and snuggling during this time is the best way to keep your pets safe.” Like other social distancing efforts, this small sacrifice could go a long way.