Coronavirus and Small Pets: What You Need to Know

Written by Oxbow

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March 17, 2020🞄

Dr. Micah Kohles, DVM, MPA

We have all been affected by the recent and worldwide Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Many pet parents have reached out to us to ask about the risk to your pets, so we wanted to take some time to address questions and concerns surrounding the Coronavirus and COVID-19 while providing some valuable information from various sources, including the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association).

What is Coronavirus/COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that causes respiratory disease in humans. There are many types of coronaviruses that have been identified in a diversity of species including dogs, cats, birds, and others, but COVID-19 is a new strain different than others.  Because this is a new strain, there is less known about it and because it has the potential to cause severe illness in people, many people are naturally concerned about their pets as well.

Is Coronavirus/COVID-19 a threat to my small pets?

We do not definitively know if COVID-19 can infect pets and be spread by pets to other animals, including people. That being said, currently, there is no evidence that pets can become sick with COVID-19. Historically, coronaviruses have been species specific, only infecting one group of animals and not crossing species lines and COVID-19 appears to follow suit.

Can my pets carry Coronavirus and transmit it to people?

COVID-19 appears to be primarily transmitted by contact with an infected person’s bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze. COVID-19 might be able to be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface or object (i.e. fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly eyes, but this appears to be a secondary route.

Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g. countertops, doorknobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g. paper money, pet fur), because porous, and especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch.

Because your pet’s hair is porous and also fibrous, it is very unlikely that you would contract COVID-19 by petting or playing with your pet. However, because animals can spread other diseases to people and people can also spread diseases to animals, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands before and after interacting with animals; ensure your pet is kept well-groomed and regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding material, and toys. Infectious disease experts, as well as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO (World Health Organization), indicate there is no evidence to suggest that small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, or chinchillas can be a source of infection with COVID-19, including spreading COVID-19 to people.

What should I do as a pet parent to protect myself, my family, and my pets?

Preparation and education are key to ensuring the health and safety of you and your loved ones during any emergency situation, and the current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.  From a preparation standpoint, there are some basic steps you can and should take to make sure you and your pets stay safe during the weeks ahead.

  • Wash your hands frequently (for more than 20 seconds) Frequently washing your hands with soap and water for more than 20 seconds is one the most important measures you can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  If soap is not available, use hand sanitizer frequently.  Avoid touching your face (including eyes and mouth) as much as possible.
  •  Clean and sanitize surfaces, including your pet’s habitat As we mentioned, smooth, non-porous surfaces transmit viruses such as the COVID-19 more effectively than others.  With this in mind, it’s important to clean and sanitize surfaces that are touched or handled on a daily basis.  This includes your pet’s habitat and the accessories within (e.g. toys, water bottles, food bowls, etc.)
  •  Limit travel and social activities We’re currently experiencing closures and cancellations at a scale that most of us have never experienced.  These cancellations are taking place in the interest of “flattening the curve” of infection, which will help greatly when it comes to not overwhelming our country’s healthcare system.   We should all be doing our part by social distancing as much as possible during this critical time. We know that one of the many joys of pet parenting is the social aspect – taking our pets to the store with us, taking part in monthly social events at our local pet store, and more.  Fortunately, there are ways to remain social during this time of social distancing.  For example, thanks to the internet, pet parents are able to share photos, videos, and other media that celebrates the joy of the bond with our pets – all without leaving the home and risking the spread of infection.
  • Stock up on food and other essentials supplies We’ve all heard (and likely experienced) the horrors of toilet paper hoarding and other bizarre buying behaviors during the pandemic.  Rest assured there are much more important supplies to keep stocked up on during this time – including food, hay, medications, and other essentials for your pet.  At this time, we suggest stocking up on at least one month’s worth of these essentials.
  •  Don’t panic during this stressful time Remaining calm and practicing self-care are essential during times of stress and anxiety.  As pet parents especially understand, our animals are extremely adept at sensing when we’re stressed, anxious, sad, or scared.  For this reason, it’s important to remain calm and measured in the face of the many stresses caused by the pandemic.  When it comes to self-care, the good news is that our pets provide positive daily benefits by nature, just by being themselves.  While you find yourself spending more time at home, take time to practice your favorite relaxing exercise or activity (e.g. yoga or meditation).  You may even find that your pets enjoy experiencing these activities with you.

I’m currently experiencing a food shortage in my area?  What should I do?

As previously mentioned, stocking up on at least one month’s worth of your pet’s food and medications is advised at this time. If you cannot find your pet food stocked on store shelves, try looking and ordering online or using Oxbow’s store locator to find other local options.

In you find yourself in an extreme situation where you cannot find an adequate supply of fortified food for your small pets, please contact your trusted veterinarian right away for their recommended guidance for your particular animals.  Depending on the species of your pet(s), they may help you formulate a plan for temporarily and slightly reducing the amount of pellets you provide while increasing the quantity of other essentials (e.g. leafy greens and hay in the case of herbivores).  A drastic measure such as reducing food quantity should only be taken under extreme circumstances with the guidance of your trusted veterinarian.

For more tips on what greens, vegetables, and other foods to feed your little ones, visit:

Rabbits & Guinea Pigs

Hamsters & Gerbils

Rats & Mice

Where can I learn more about Coronavirus/COVID-19?

Here are some useful links to help you learn more about the Coronavirus/COVID-19: