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Arizona Scientists Study Dogs And Cats Infected With COVID-19


Cats and dogs can get infected with COVID-19, but not much is known about the relationships between sick people and their pets. Scientists at Flagstaff’s Translational Genomics Research Institute are recruiting Arizona pet owners who have been recently diagnosed with COVID to learn more. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with lead researcher Hayley Yaglom about what she’s learned so far.

So how many dogs and cats were you able to enroll so far for this study?

Thus far we have enrolled 38 dogs and cats that are living in households where their owners or other household contacts have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The big question is did you find any of the dogs and cats were also positive for coronavirus?

So those 38 animals are spread around between 15 different households in both Maricopa and Coconino county, and we’ve had four households that have had animals test positive…for a total of 11 animals.

Was that what you were expecting to find, that level of infection?

We didn’t know. I’m surprised that we’ve seen so many positives, to be honest…. But I think that goes to show, when you don’t look for something, you don’t find it, and when you look for it, you find it.

You haven’t seen any evidence that animals can spread the virus to people, but people can give the virus to their pets under some circumstances?

Yes, absolutely.

I know it’s early stages, but what circumstances are those, when is it more likely to happen that a pet will pick up their owner’s disease?

It does seem like it’s this close contact with their owners, so animals that are frequently laying on the couch next onto the couch next to their owner, or sleeping in the bed… is at least what we think is the potential driver for that. Another one of our interesting findings thus far, is that the animals that have tested positive in our study are from multi-pet households. It may not just be the contact between the owner and the pets but then, what other contact are those pets having with each other?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually have issued guidelines for people who are ill with COVID that involve trying to keep some distance from pets if you can. Are you hoping that this research, you’re going to be able to update or help improve those guidelines?  

Yes, that is one of the long-term goals of this project is to put all the evidence together from our study and similar-natured studies that are happening to other states and provide that back to veterinary medical associations and the CDC …. If these animals do become symptomatic, is it a risk of bringing your dog or cat to a veterinary clinic and what type of precautions do people have to consider… So yes, that is definitely an important for goal for us.

So in some cases the cat or the dog was actually sick and the owner needed to take it to the vet?

Most of the animals enrolled in our project have ben asymptotic, it’s just something we recommend owners look out for, and of course if their pet does become sick to reach out to their veterinarian and get them the care they needed… It could have been as a mild as a few days of minimal appetite, to a severe repository symptoms and fever in one of the cats.

Tell me big picture, why it’s important to understand this relationship between people, pets and COVID-19?

Human, animal, and environmental health is all interconnected and interrelated. One thing we can learn about one piece of that puzzle, the better we can put together the entire picture that is the puzzle. For something like COVID-19 especially right now we are hearing more and more about these new variants, these new strains …. there’s all these new things that we continue to learn day by day about this virus, so we can’t just study it from the human perspective, we have to look at it from all these different area.

Hayley Yaglom, thank you so much for speaking with me.


Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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