Sorry, pet owners: Your cats and dogs can’t comfort you with cuddles if you’re sick with the coronavirus.

After recent confirmed reports of pets testing positive for COVID-19 (a pug in North Carolina and two cats in New York, among others worldwide), people are being advised to limit contact with animals if they themselves contract the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidelines about people-pet interactions in light of the recent reports, recommending that pets adhere to the same sort of social distancing rules as humans.

“Do not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household,” the CDC states on its website. “If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets.”

Veterinarian James McCormack at Detroit Lakes Animal Hospital said his main takeaway from the new recommendations is that, “We need to expand our social units to include our pets. Think of pets as part of your household -- your family is one unit, and if somebody in the family gets infected, the unit gets sequestered. And that includes your pets.”

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Quarantining or other protective measures taken should not endanger any animals. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, “The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that companion animals play a significant role in spreading the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.”

While information on COVID-19 in animals is still new and scarce, and the situation is rapidly evolving, here’s what the CDC and WOAH know at this point:

  • A small number of pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people who are infected.

  • It appears the virus can spread from people to animals in certain situations of close contact.

  • Dogs, cats (domestic and tiger) and minks have all tested positive for COVID-19 in the field setting, following close contact with infected humans. Of these, cats appear to be the most susceptible to the disease, and can transmit it to other cats. Dogs seem to be less susceptible.

  • The risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low.

According to the CDC, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Only some can spread to humans from an infected animal, and only in rare instances. This is what happened with the virus that started the current outbreak of COVID-19, which has been linked to a live animal market (but its exact source is yet to be determined).

McCormack said he hasn’t heard of any suspected cases of COVID-19 in animals in the Detroit Lakes area, or anywhere else in the region. If an animal showed clinical signs of having COVID-19, he’d consider sending a test out, but right now, he said, animal test kits are hard to come by, and the ones that are available are still so new that they're not very reliable.

Symptoms of the virus in animals are similar to those in humans: coughing, fever, chills, and possibly vomiting and diarrhea.

What pet owners should do

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining a 6-foot distance from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where people and dogs gather.
  • Wash hands before and after handling animals, their food, or supplies. Avoid being kissed or licked by animals, or sharing food.

If you’re infected with COVID-19, or suspect you might be:

  • Minimize close direct contact with animals, including farm animals, zoo animals and wild animals. Have another member of your household care for your pets; if that’s not possible, wear a face mask around your pets and keep the animals indoors as much as possible.
  • If your animals is showing signs of illness, contact your veterinarian.