COVID-19 May Be Passed On To Certain Pets
Most of the time, when people worry about the risks that pets pose to humans or other animals, it’s physical danger, like a dog bite, that is uppermost in people’s minds. A dog bite can cause significant injury, but there is another issue that people must be wary of, and that is disease transmission.
While it is now under much better control in pets, rabies is a medical condition that affects most mammals, including humans. Getting bitten by a dog, cat, or other mammals with rabies would mean the bite victim is also at high risk of infection. The same is true if a beloved pet gets bitten by another animal with rabies.
But what about the latest disease, COVID-19, that currently has America on lockdown? Is there a risk of this disease “jumping the species barrier”? If so, what are the legal ramifications of that?
Dogs Are Safe
Current studies indicate that dogs appear resistant to COVID-19. This means that they are neither transmitters nor are they particularly vulnerable to the virus. That’s good news for everyone, as many people have pets keeping them and their families company during shelter-in-place advisories.
Legally, this means that dogs, even aggressive ones, pose little risk. While a dog biting someone else, especially if left off the leash while on a walk, is worthy of a civil lawsuit, there’s little chance that COVID-19 will come into play. Unlike rabies, COVID-19 doesn’t seem to jump the species barrier much when it comes to dogs.
Cats Are Not Safe
Feline pets, on the other hand, are susceptible to COVID-19. So far, there have been documented cases of both wild felines, like tigers, being diagnosed in zoos with COVID-19, and domestic breeds like the typical house cat. In these cases, however, when the species barrier was jumped, it was from human to feline, not the other way around.
This means that for people with COVID-19 that have cats as pets, the risk is to the pet, not the human. Fortunately, so far, while cats appear to be vulnerable to contracting the virus, they don’t show much in the way of acute infection. In lab research, cats have tested positive for the virus. Still, they haven’t shown the severe respiratory effects that vulnerable humans, like the elderly, show off. This does, however, mean that if a person in a household comes down with COVID-19, and there is a cat present, even the cat should avoid contact to minimize the chance of infection. It’s still uncertain whether a cat infected with COVID-19 could then transmit it to other members of the household.
Ferrets Aren’t Safe
While the ferret isn’t an old fashioned choice for a house pet, these mammals have become very popular in recent years as an alternative. Unfortunately, ferrets also seem particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Unlike cats, however, they display many symptoms of COVID-19 similar to humans, including respiratory issues.
That susceptibility means that they are being used in medical research, which is not a complete surprise. Ferrets often react similarly to humans in terms of disease vulnerability, so they are valuable research aids. For now, as with cats, current scientific evidence suggests that while humans can pass the virus onto ferrets, the ferrets may not be able to transmit the virus to humans. This does mean, however, that ferrets may be severely affected by someone infected with COVID-19 and so should be isolated from a resident or anyone else diagnosed with the virus.
Safe From Personal Injury
This means that, legally, it is unlikely that an animal injury lawsuit resulting from COVID-19 infection is likely to arise. Dogs appear resistant to the illness, and both cats and ferrets can get COVID-19 but don’t appear to transmit it to humans.
However, this also means that someone could, through deliberate malice, pass on COVID-19 to household pets like cats and ferrets. Unfortunately, while this is unethical, and can result in a civil lawsuit, that lawsuit because it affects a pet, would only be for the possible costs of the pet itself if something were to happen. The loss of a pet, while tragic, is not on the same scale as a personal injury lawsuit for a person that has been infected with through deliberate malice or negligence.