Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Animal Health and COVID-19: Common Questions with Answers

As the situation around the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, it often feels like there are more questions than answers. At Elanco, we’re monitoring the situation closely and remain committed to supporting our customers and the animals in their care. As part of that commitment, we’re sharing guidance from our leading scientists and veterinarians, along with third party resources, to provide factual, helpful information in the areas of pet health; the safety of meat, milk and eggs; and animal health and safety on the farm.

Answers to the animal and public health questions below were provided by the following Elanco Animal Health subject matter experts, who address animal health and wellness needs every day:

  • Shabbir Simjee, M.D., Ph.D. in infectious disease, chief medical officer
  • Tony Rumschlag, DVM, director of consulting veterinarians for companion animals
  • Brandon Reinbold, DVM, principal research scientist

You, your employees, and the animals in your care are at the center of all we do. As the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold, please know:

  • Our manufacturing network is fully operational. We’re taking extra precautions to protect our team and continuity of supply. We continue to monitor our supply chain and will work diligently to adapt to this changing situation.
  • We have contingency measures in place, we maintain safety stock supplies and, in some cases, have secondary sourcing options in place if needed, to help prevent supply disruptions.
  • Ensuring the health and safety of our employees is our top priority. We are following all government regulations and taking appropriate measures to keep our employees safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19, including restricting travel, and instituting remote working arrangements for those beyond the labs and manufacturing sites.

Read on for more information, along with a message from our CEO, Jeff Simmons, to find out more about what we are doing today to ensure continuity in our support of our customers and the animals in our collective care. For ongoing updates and more general information on animal health, be sure to follow us on Twitter(@Elanco), Facebook(@elancoanimalhealth), Instagram(@Elanco).

Keeping Pets and Pet Owners Healthy

Can dogs and cats become infected with the COVID-19?

Many forms of coronaviruses exist, including those that infect cats and dogs. These canine- and feline-specific coronaviruses and their respective types (or groups) have no history of infecting people and are not related to the current COVID-19 crisis. While there have been isolated instances of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans) detection in both dogs and cats, at this time the only transmission process that’s been confirmed is from infected humans to cats, not from infected cats to humans. It is unlikely for COVID-19 to adapt itself following instances of infection in animals such as dogs and cats, and then transfer to people.

As stated by the American Veterinarian Medical Association, “infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations (CDC, OIE, WHO) agree there is little to no evidence at this point to indicate that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.” ¹ Out of an abundance of caution, if a person becomes infected with COVID-19, they should limit contact with pets.

There will continue to be intense scrutiny and evaluation by coronavirus disease experts of these rare, isolated cases of COVID-19 reported in animals.

What about reports of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York?

It is true that a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans), as confirmed by The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories. The tiger is the first of its kind to test positive after exhibiting signs of a respiratory illness, namely a dry cough. Public health officials believe the tiger was exposed to a zoo employee that was shedding the virus. For more information, visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service site.

While we now know that cats are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and can contract it from people, there is still no evidence of transmission from pets to humans. Out of an abundance of caution, if a person becomes infected, they should limit contact with pets.

What about the reports of a dog in Hong Kong with COVID-19?

While initial tests of a dog in Hong Kong indicated the presence of SARS-CoV2, the betacoronavirus that causes COVID-19, in the dog’s nasal and oral cavities, the results were a “weak positive” and did not differentiate whether or not the virus was infecting the dog.2 Follow-up tests also did not indicate an active response against the virus within the dog. Elanco Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shabbir Simjee, described this as transient colonization, which means the virus, while present, was not able to sufficiently stick to dogs’ host cells and therefore would be gone from the animal within a few hours. This reinforces what we’re hearing from organizations like the CDC and WHO, which say that there is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs can be infected by or spread COVID-19.

What about reports out of Belgium that a pet cat contracted COVID-19?

While there has been a report of human-to-cat transmission of COVID-19 in Belgium, there have been no reports of pets passing the virus to humans. The fact remains that human-to-pet transmission has not been identified as a significant path of viral spread. This particular cat showed symptoms one week after its owner got sick with COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2 was found in its feces. It’s not clear what test was used – if it was a test for the live virus, detection for SARS-CoV02 genetic material, or another test. It’s also not clear whether the cat was sick because of the infection with SARS-CoV-2 or if it was due to something else and just coincidentally timed. This is another possible case of human-to-animal transmission, and not the other way around. This virus is unfortunately very efficient in transmitting human to human. The presence of the positive test from the cat in the presence of an infected household doesn’t increase concern and animals still aren’t considered to play a significant role in this disease.

At the end of the day, if you’re sick minimize your contact with pets. If you have COVID-19 and have been around your pets, keep your pets inside and away from other people. While the risk of transmission to or from a pet is very low, an exposed pet should not be in contact with other people, especially those people of high risk. If you are not infected with COVID-19, your risk is primarily exposure to people, not your pet.

If I am sick, should I stay away from my pets?

If you are infected with COVID-19, the CDC is recommending limited exposure to your pets out of an abundance of caution. The virus could potentially live on pets’ fur, etc., for a short time and transfer it to other people – though it tends to survive best on hard surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs.

How can pets help with social isolation?

Companion animals can help combat loneliness as many people take up social distancing and isolation guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Living and interacting with pets regularly reduces levels of stress and anxiety. In fact, one study examining self-management in the everyday lives of people with a long-term mental health condition found that sixty percent of patients ranked pets among their “most important circle of supportive connection.”3 We can all benefit from a pet’s emotional support during this time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers extensive tips and guidance for managing mental and social health during this time. For more information, visit the CDC website about managing anxiety and stress.

Is it safe to take pets out for walks?

Yes – with the right precautions. Just be sure to continue abiding by social isolation guidelines, avoiding crowds and close interactions with other people.

If we’re spending less time with other humans, we can certainly enjoy time with our dogs and cats. If we’re not infected, we should enjoy being around them.

My dog is due for the renewal of his vaccines, but everything is closed. Should I wait or go to an emergency vet? What risk am I a taking?

Dr. Rumschlag provides this guidance for pet owners: Vaccine protection doesn’t suddenly expire when they are due for renewal so while it’s not ideal, the risk of delaying a vaccine renewal by a few weeks or even a couple of months is minimal. If you were intending to place your pet in a boarding facility or travel with them, it would be more critical to have documentation that the vaccines are current, but in the pandemic environment, that should not be the concern. Just ensure that your pet’s protection gets updated once businesses resume normal operation.

Adjusting Routine Pet Care

What kind of pet products should I make sure to stock up on at home?

To limit trips away from home, and to adhere to social distancing guidelines, any routine medications, food, and supplies are the most important items to have on hand. For instance, ensure your pet won’t run out of monthly heartworm or intestinal parasite products. This would include flea and tick medications, as the weather is starting to warm up in many geographies.

If your pet has any chronic or recurrent condition, such as diabetes, persistent allergies or recurrent ear infections, you should ensure that you have medications on hand to manage these conditions through the next several weeks.

Litter or bedding material are also important items to remember for cats and various small pets.

What if I am stuck at home and have no pet food left, what can I give to my pet?

That really depends on your pet. In many instances, you should use caution – if they are sensitive to dietary changes, if they have diarrhea or vomiting with changes to their diet, or if they have food allergies. It’s always best to discuss your individual pet’s needs with your veterinarian. If that isn’t an option, most dogs will tolerate and enjoy cooked rice mixed 1:1 with cottage cheese or cooked meat (especially chicken, turkey, or hamburger). Cats will generally be more receptive to canned fish, turkey or chicken (or cottage cheese) along with cooked rice. Many dogs can go for a short period of time eating foods generally similar to what we eat, although it’s important to avoid spicy or high fat foods and to carefully remove any bones and excess fat. Avoid grease or fatty drippings from cooking meats.

I am not allowed outside of my house; how can I make sure my dog gets some exercise at home?

That depends on many things including the size of the dog, the size of the house, the health of the dog (e.g., any osteoarthritis or orthopedic issues), etc. However, being inside with your pet can be a great opportunity to work on training for various activities or tricks. Training provides some exercise while also stimulating the mind. Additionally, you can simply walk your dog throughout your home. If space and flooring allow, fetch can be a great exercise. Even if they don’t bring the object back to you, many will chase after a rolling ball. If you have food puzzles, you can encourage exercise while pets work for their regular meal.

I have run out of cat litter and it’s out of stock at the moment, what are my options?

You want to be careful as some cats are extremely finicky about the texture of the material used in their litter box. Possible options in a pinch include shredded newspaper and/or other shredded paper materials, as well as fresh, clean sand.

Ensuring Food Safety

Is it safe to eat meat, milk and eggs? Can I get the virus through animal protein?

It is safe to consume animal protein. Current evidence does not suggest that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through food, and most of the animal proteins we eat are cooked or pasteurized. As these products make their way through the manufacturing process, the number of human interactions per product is much lower compared to other parts of the world.

If fresh meat, poultry and dairy products are not available at your local grocery store, consider shelf-stable and canned options to continue getting the important B12 and other nutrients these foods provide. Canned meat and poultry, powdered eggs and milk offer alternatives to fresh products. As we work to stay healthy, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet that includes micronutrients and vitamins from animal-based sources.

Are there precautions consumers should take when handling meat?

While the COVID-19 virus can’t be transmitted through meat, it is important to keep in mind standard handling procedures to stay safe. Similar to the renewed focus on handwashing, we can all renew our focus on proper food preparation and handling practices. Discard food packaging when no longer in use and wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Meat should also be handled properly to avoid cross-contamination and prepared to the proper temperature. Wash hands and clean any surfaces or utensils that come into contact with raw meat or eggs before coming into contact with other food or surfaces. For more details on proper food handling and preparation, visit Food

Health and Care of Livestock

Can livestock animals be infected with COVID-19?

In one study cats and ferrets were shown to be susceptible to COVID-19 infection. However, up to this point, cats are the only animals that have contracted the COVID-19 virus from humans. Although diarrhea (neonates) or respiratory disease (adults) does occur, livestock experience disease from coronavirus infections specific to their own species.

How can farm workers stay safe?

As always, livestock care givers should follow safety procedures that protect them and other livestock from zoonotic diseases, including wearing personal protection equipment, washing hands after interacting with animals and changing clothes and boots before traveling to other farms.

What is the impact to Elanco employees?

Ensuring the health and safety of our employees is always our top priority. We are following all government regulations and taking appropriate measures across the globe to keep our employees safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19. That includes restricting travel and instituting remote working arrangements.

Can I still visit with my Elanco sales representative?

As a customer, your sales representative is always your best resource for information. While face-to-face meetings may not be possible, sales representatives are available to help via phone and email. Please reach out if you have questions, or need help in any way.

Will supply be impacted during this pandemic?

All plants are fully operational, with no current anticipated impact on the ability to fulfill customers’ orders due to COVID-19. Maintaining a reliable product supply is always our key focus, and we will stay in close contact with our customers if anything changes.

What changes will happen to innovation?

We continue to work hard to advance the pipeline. The pipeline continues to move forward, and plans are progressing.

Animal health and safety

Is it safe to be around livestock during this pandemic? Is it safe for my kids to be around livestock?

It is safe for adults and children to be around livestock during this pandemic. Livestock have their own species-specific coronaviruses and are not infectious from the animal to humans. While it’s not likely that viruses impacting an animal species will impact humans, people that are infected with COVID-19 should limit contact with all animals, including livestock, out of an abundance of caution

It’s always a best practice to thoroughly wash your hands with warm soapy water and maintain proper hygiene when in contact with livestock, including changes clothes and shoes prior to visiting the next farm. This ensures any zoonotic diseases, which are diseases caused by germs that spread from animals to people, are not transmitted. For more information, visit the CDC One Health Zoonotic Diseases website.

Can my veterinarian still come treat my animals? If not, what other options should I explore?

Veterinarians are part of the critical infrastructure that serves our communities. Therefore they are determining their own protocols and standard operating procedures to ensure that animals receive the treatment they need during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s recommended that you contact your local veterinary clinic for more information on their plans for receiving people and their animals at the clinic and examining livestock on the farm.

Protein supply

Will this pandemic impact our supply of high-quality protein?

There has been no indication that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused any decrease in protein supply, especially as healthy workers continue to manage the supply chain. Suppliers are working quickly to distribute their existing and new inventories to your local grocers as quickly as possible to meet sudden increases in demand.

  • Will this pandemic make meat prices increase, especially as we head into summer grilling months? The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on meat prices is uncertain at this time. As with many factors, it is dependent on how successful efforts are to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • If this doesn’t impact livestock, why are we seeing empty meat cases at the grocery store? The COVID-19 pandemic initially led many consumers to stock up on grocery items in preparation for practicing social distancing and self-quarantine orders, including items like milk, meat and eggs. As a result, many of the fresh and frozen animal protein products that are typically readily available are currently in minimal or sold-out supply.

  • Many grocers have been able to receive new shipments of products in order to meet the sudden demand of their customers. Some grocers are enacting purchase limitations per household to prevent individuals from stockpiling goods, so they can meet the immediate and short-term needs of all of their customers.

I’ve decided to purchase meat to freeze. Do you have suggestions on how to properly freeze meat, so it stays safe and high quality once I want to defrost?

Please visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website for best practice recommendations on properly preparing fresh meat for short- and long-term frozen storage, information regarding frozen food safety, freshness and quality, nutrient retention, storage temperature and safe thawing recommendations.

Dairy Consumers

Are milk and dairy products safe?

COVID-19 is known to spread through aerosol transmission and close human contact, not through food products. There is no evidence to suggest that dairy products can transmit COVID-19 and there is no evidence that this strain of coronavirus is present in domestic livestock. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that heat treatment kills coronaviruses, making pasteurization an effective safeguard against this virus.

Should I try and alter operations at my dairy farm?

It’s recognized that dairy farms are 24-hour, 7-day per week businesses, and critical infrastructure for our communities. Agriculture, including the dairy supply chain, was identified as essential critical infrastructure by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 19; as such, employees have a special responsibility in these times to continue operations. Following U.S. CDC precautions is the best way forward to minimize the risk to dairy farmers, their families, employees and essential professional and service providers that need to be on the farm.

What can I do to help protect myself and others at my dairy?

Dairy owners and workers can follow simple steps to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses:

  • Limit access by non-essential persons
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Always wear milking gloves
  • Shower when you get home after working in the dairy and wash your work clothes
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects in the dairy
  • Practice social distancing by reducing the number of close physical contacts you have with others, only leaving your home/dairy to get necessary supplies

For more information and resources, you can also visit the National Milk Producers Federation website.

Further Questions?

We cannot provide the answers to all of your questions in this summary, but many resources are available to help you find additional information. For more information on the COVID-19 virus and safety guidelines, visit the following websites:

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
World Health Organization (WHO)
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)