• No existing data shows that pets can get or spread COVID-19.
  • Researchers want to answer many questions, including whether or not dogs could be a host for the coronavirus, or if the virus can spread between pets.
  • Accelerated hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean collars, harnesses, and leashes.

Video Transcript

JOHN WHYTE: Hello. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. And welcome to Coronavirus in Context. Our topic today is pets and coronavirus. And I'm joined by Dr. Courtney Campbell, a board certified veterinary surgeon based in Ventura, California. Dr. Campbell, thanks for joining us today.

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: It's great to be with you, John. Thank you so much for bringing this topic to the forefront of everybody's minds. I've been getting tons of questions about it. So I applaud you for -- for talking about it.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, you have a guest with you. So --

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Yeah, it's -- I've got Pinto here. He is, you know, he always wants to join the conversation. But I think he'll let me speak at least today.

JOHN WHYTE: All right. Well, great. Well, let's start off with, can pets get coronavirus?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Listen. These two dogs in Hong Kong that tested a weak positive really started off a firestorm about whether pets are important in the conversation regarding coronavirus. Particularly, the primary concern was, can pets get coronavirus? And the answer at this point is, so far we have no evidence to point to that they can transmit coronavirus or COVID-19 or that they can get sick from COVID-19.

However, there's a couple of caveats. Those two dogs, one of them was a 17-year-old Pomeranian, who tested a weak positive on PCR, which PCR can pick up, as you know, just fragments of DNA -- of fragments of RNA. And it can amplify those. And they thought initially that it was a contaminant. Maybe the dog essentially sniffed a little bit of the virus or it was contaminated on his nose or in the oropharynx.

But sequential PCR has actually showed a positive. Now, they did a serology test, and that came up negative. That's not uncommon for a 17-year-old Pomeranian with other multiple comorbidities to not have -- mount a very robust immune response from coronavirus. So that was interesting. But then, a young German shepherd actually tested positive as well.


So I do expect that there will be further testing regarding that coming up. So I think as far as are dogs epidemiologically important in terms of coronavirus, are they a dead-end host, are they -- can they amplify the virus, those are questions that I still think we need to answer. But as of yet, there is no evidence that people can pick up coronavirus from their pets or that pets can be become sick with it or transmit it to, uh, people.

JOHN WHYTE: So if you have elderly parents, and they're around your dog, that's OK?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Well, yes, kind of. You -- I would say, number one, they should be sort of sheltering in place, practicing physical distancing, trying to get away from that -- social distancing. Because I think we all should still be social.

But I was talking to a young lady the other day who said that she saw a dog on her hike, and she went up to that dog, didn't know him, and just started petting him. And that other lady who was coming with the dog said, hey, what are you doing? And she said, ah, I realized I made a mistake.

And here's the mistake that she was referencing. Is it possible for pets to serve as fomites for this disease? Meaning, if you were to sneeze on your dog or their nasal droplets or aerosols that land on your dog or on the collar, on the leash, or on the harness, could they serve to transmit coronavirus?

Well, we know the physical inanimate objects like the leash, collar, and harness, they potentially could. So we need to be really cognizant of that and pay attention. But as far as the fur, well, that's interesting, because it's very porous. And maybe the virus doesn't survive for very long, maybe just a few hours. Or is a few hours is all that's needed? So I think that there's a lot that we need to figure out.

But I think it's important to, number one, in terms of can pets serve as a fomite? Is it OK for elderly people to be touching dogs that they don't know? I still think we should be careful, because this virus truly is novel. You know, you mentioned novel coronavirus. There's a lot we're still learning about it, and it's only been around since December of 2019. So I'd say to everybody out there, stay tuned, but be careful.

JOHN WHYTE: Should we be disinfecting the collars and leashes? Does that bow tie on Pinto need to uh, you know, undergo some cleaning?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Well, listen. I want it -- I don't want to speak in absolution. But I could be really confident that this little bow -- Pinto's bow tie doesn't contain coronavirus. But on a very serious note, one thing about non-enveloped viruses like, uh, the coronavirus is that it's pretty susceptible to disinfectants. It's not very hardy.

For all my animal lovers and pet parents out there, you're very familiar with parvovirus, which is a non-enveloped virus, uh, and aphthovirus, the virus that causes foot and mouth disease, these are very hardy viruses that survive for a very long time outside of the environment. Coronavirus, fortunately for us, is not one of those.

So my preference is, if you have access to it, accelerated hydrogen peroxide, it just degrades into water, but it's very effective. It's fast, it's quick. It, um, it doesn't require a long contact time. And I could just emphasize for everybody out there.

And I'm sure they'll notice, you have to clean first before you disinfect. You essentially -- it's hard to disinfect in the presence of organic material. And that's, you know, poop, pus, all that sort of disgusting stuff. Get rid of that first. Then, yes, to your question, absolutely. We should be disinfecting leashes, collars, and harnesses.

JOHN WHYTE: If you're out walking your dog right now -- we're trying to encourage people to get out -- what about if your dog comes into contact with another dog or a cat?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: OK. Now, that's an awesome question, because right now, we don't know, uh, whether, uh, we don't see any evidence, rather, that coronavirus can be transmitted to dog to dog. Now, veterinarians in general, writ large, are very familiar with coronaviruses as a family of viruses. We know that respiratory canine coronavirus is you know, very popular, something we see.

Uh, FIP, or feline infectious peritonitis. Ferrets get their own form of coronavirus. All my large animal veterinarians out there, they know that livestock also get a fair share of coronaviruses. So as a family, what we know about coronaviruses, they tend to be very species specific.

However, the -- just because of the receptors that, you know, ACE inhibitor, uh, or sort of ACE um, attachment for that particular virus, we know that there are certain breeds that are more susceptible. So humans, of course, but then cats are the other species that we are concerned about.

So to see the test positive, for these two dogs to test weakly positive in Hong Kong, for me, it's a little bit concerning, because that's not a species that I was readily concerned about. So I would say between dog to dog, absolutely there's no evidence. Between dog to people, right now there's no evidence. But we're learning more and more each week.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, you're a veterinary surgeon.


JOHN WHYTE: And we've been talking about canceling surgeries in the human population. What's happening with pets? Are surgeries being canceled?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Listen. This is something I call get ready for a whole new normal. I like to refer to it as a COVID era, because -- and with any era, there's going to be a fundamental change with the way we do business and the way we interact. And there's a lot of pet parents who kind of have to adjust their rec -- their expectations when talking with a veterinarian.

For instance, like you mentioned, some elective surgeries, if your dog has an orthopedic injury, for instance, that surgery may be delayed or canceled. Um, I just got a call at 1:00 AM for a young German shepherd, who experienced gastric dilatation volvulus, or GDV, which is the stomach flipping and trapping gas and air and ingesta. Now, that dog's in shock. And that dog needs emergency surgery. So we were able to do that at 1:00 in the morning.

But unless your dog has an emergent condition or is experiencing severe compromise through a variety of conditions, let's say they can't breathe, can't urinate, they have an infection, their abdomen in septic peritonitis, something like that, that's what a lot of surgeons and just veterinarians in general are moving towards rather than annual checkups, vaccinations, routine scheduled wellness exams. We're starting to sort of transition towards emergency or urgent only. And surgeons are also following suit.

JOHN WHYTE: And we still want people to call the vet beforehand, right? We don't want them to just bring the pet, uh, to the office, is that right? Same safeguards.

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Very well said. Not only do you need to call beforehand to make sure that they're still open, but get ready to hear a different protocol. For instance, you may hear that the new protocol is you pull into the parking lot, you give a call to the veterinary hospital that you're arriving to. You discuss the history of why you're here. You have a veterinarian technician go out to the parking lot, greet you. You remove all harnesses, collars, leashes away, and then a new leash is put on the dog.

And they are brought into the building. An exam is performed, and then the veterinarian will call you with their findings and recommendations. So that warm, fuzzy feeling, that bedside manner that you're so fond of in a lot of your favorite veterinarians, you may not see that. Now, here's why. If a member of the veterinary team gets sick, then they could easily spread it and put at risk all the rest of the team members and that veterinary hospital shuts down.

So if your pet is experiencing a medical emergency, now you have nobody on the team to help out. So you may see a lot of veterinary technicians and veterinarians donned in personal protective equipment, handling your pet differently, and exercising really stringent protocols. And that's because they're on the front lines, and they need to be around to help you out.

JOHN WHYTE: Are you testing for COVID-19 in pets right now?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Again, man, you're spot on with that. We are not. Now, a particular large laboratory has done thousands of tests on dogs and cats, and they have found no evidence of positive tests in dogs and cats with COVID-19. Now, it's an important caveat. A lot of these dogs they test and dogs and cats, we're not, you know, were not around known COVID-infected humans.

And so they did that as part of a surveillance tool, to see if after thousands of tests they were discovering COVID-19 impact. And the answer is, no, they are not discovering it. But then again, none of these pets were around COVID-infected people that we know. So that test is not commercially available.

And they will follow the guidelines of their state public health department, the CDC, Department of Agriculture, if they feel like we need to ramp up COVID-19 testing in pets. But right now, we are not doing it.

JOHN WHYTE: And then finally, we all know that there's a lot of anxiety about COVID-19 right around the novel coronavirus. What role do pets have in providing emotional support right now?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Well, I'll tell you right now, Pinto is giving me a lot of emotional support, not like I need it talking to you, but he is giving me a lot. And you know, on a very serious note, we know about something called social recognition, in which we recognize individuals who are important to us.

And that fosters that feeling of togetherness and unity and just emotional support. If you don't see that social recognition, you can experience loneliness, depression, and a lot of anxiety.

So in terms of feeling isolated, which, let's be honest, that's what they're advocating now for the protection of public health, pets are critically important. And just to nerd out, obviously, because you know that's what I love to do, we know that just snuggling with our pets, like what I'm doing right now with Pinto, helps release oxytocin and that snugly hormone, that love hormone, which I got a lot of right now. So I think at the end of the day, when we talk about emotional support animals helping people through crisis, helping people with anxiety, pets, you know, serve a very vital role in that equation.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, that's a great message, Dr. Campbell. And I want to thank you for taking time to talk.

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Awesome. It's great being with you. And thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching Coronavirus In Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte.