A woman wearing a medical mask walks her dogs Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Hong Kong. Pet dogs and cats cannot pass the new coronavirus to humans, but they can test positive for low levels of it if they catch it from their owner.

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Dr. Ashley Mitek, small-animal Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, with assistance from expert reviewers, answers frequently asked questions about the risk to pets from the new coronavirus.

Can dogs get the new coronavirus (COVID-19)?

At this time, experts believe it is very unlikely. The World Health Organization currently advises that there is no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. The CDC also seconds that opinion, stating that, “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19.”

If experts think it is unlikely for a dog to get the virus, how did one test 'positive' in Hong Kong?

This canine patient was in close contact with an infected human, who was likely shedding large quantities of the virus. This led to the virus being in the dog’s nose. There is no indication that the dog is sick or showing any symptoms. Authorities say they will continue to quarantine and test the dog.

In short, there was coronavirus on the dog just like there was coronavirus on the floor in the room, but the dog was not infected or diseased.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong health authorities and the World Organization for Animal Health announced that this canine patient had subsequently tested “weak” positive again for the virus while in quarantine. This is an expected result, as the virus is maintained for a long time and the test is sensitive. It is important to understand that the test does not determine if the detected virus is live or only small, inactive parts that the test is designed to detect.

Is there a vaccine for pets?

There is no vaccine for COVID-19 for people or animals at this time.

Veterinarians are familiar with other coronaviruses. Similar but different strains cause several common diseases in domestic animals. Many dogs, for example, are vaccinated for another species of coronavirus (Canine Coronavirus) as puppies. However, this vaccine does not cross-protect for COVID-19.

Can veterinarians test for COVID-19 in pets?

Yes. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the UI College of Veterinary Medicine has recently purchased the needed equipment to test for the new virus in pets. They expect the test to be available to veterinarians starting March 15. Please contact the diagnostic laboratory with any further questions at 217-333-1620.

What animal did the virus originate from?

Current research suggests that bats are the reservoir species and the virus originated from that species as well. Previous human coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS, originated in other species, such as the palm civet and camels.

If I am diagnosed, how do I protect my pet?

Since your pet is not at risk of infection, there are no specific steps needed to protect them from infection. However, pets can have the virus on them if they are in an environment with a large quantity of the virus and could serve to be a source for other people, including family members. Therefore, to protect other people and yourself, the CDC recommends that you restrict contact with pets if you have the virus, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. Avoid snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must interact with your pet, wash your hands before and after, and wear a face mask.

Should my pet wear a face mask in public?

No. They may not protect them from disease transmission and may cause other breathing difficulties.

How do I protect my pet and myself from the virus?

Since your pet is not at risk of infection, there are no specific steps needed to protect them.

To protect yourself, the CDC recommends the following steps:

— Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

— Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

— Avoid close contact with sick people.

— Stay home when you are sick.

— Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw it away.

— Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

— Voluntary home isolation: If you are ill with symptoms of respiratory disease, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, or fatigue, stay home. The CDC recommends that you remain there until at least 24 hours after you are free of fever (100 degrees F) or signs of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Veterinary practices should designate their clinic as a temporary no-handshake zone.

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy at