Chicago's Top Doctor Says It's ‘Unlikely We Would Ever Eradicate' COVID While Animals Can Contract the Virus

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

As long as pets and other animals can contract COVID-19, the virus will likely never be completely eradicated, Chicago's top doctor said Tuesday.

"For me, the concern about seeing COVID not just in dogs and cats but in animals in general, it tells us that there's what we call an 'animal reservoir for COVID-19' and that means that it's one of the most important things that makes it very unlikely that we would ever eradicate completely -- get rid of COVID. Because as long as there are animals that are able to have it, there are, you know, that remains a risk," Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a Facebook live event.

So, could there be a vaccine specifically for animals one day?

"Yeah, there could be," Arwady said.

However, she explained that health officials would want to see that COVID-19 infections were "serious" in animals or that pets were playing a large role in making humans seriously ill.

"One of the reasons we have rabies vaccines is that rabies is a really deadly human disease and can be a problem there," Arwady said.

Some animals have already been vaccinated against COVID, Arwady noted, although most of those cases were in zoo settings.

For dogs and cats, Arwady said there is no routine coronavirus vaccination recommended at this time, and she doesn't expect there to be one.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though possible for animals to get COVID from people, there's a low chance of animals spreading the virus to humans.

Most animals infected with the coronavirus had close contact with people who had COVID, such as pet owners and caretakers, the CDC said online.

Reports of animals infected with COVID have been documented worldwide, specifically in companion animals, zoo animals, mink on mink farms and wild white-tailed deer in the U.S.

Although animals are able to contract and spread COVID, health officials said more studies are needed to know if and how different animals are impacted.

Based on current research, the CDC said there's no evidence that animals play a "significant role" in spreading SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, to animals.

"Some coronaviruses that infect animals can be spread to people and then spread between people, but this is rare. This is what happened with SARS-CoV-2, which likely originated in bats," the CDC's website said.

Similar to humans, some animals with COVID are asymptomatic, though others could show mild signs of respiratory or gastrointestinal illness, health officials noted. Here are possible symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Ocular discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Health officials have advised people with COVID to quarantine away from animals while infected with the virus.

"If you test positive for COVID-19 and you have a pet, please try to avoid close contact with your pet." Arwady warned. "Don't be, you know, kissing and getting up close and personal with your pet while you're positive for COVID."

However, because the risk for pets spreading the virus to humans is low, health officials said necessary veterinary care for COVID-positive animals should not be withheld.

Additionally, service animals must be allowed to remain with their handlers despite a positive COVID test, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Contact Us