A classification of Dr. med. vet. Lena Horn / POLO+10

Every day new information, updates, emails and news about the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), which is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) are spread around the world. Most of them contain valuable information, but some also create myths and insecurity among us.

What we know for sure is that the COVID-19 virus is currently a big threat to our whole society. Worldwide the national governments are working closely together with the World Health Organization (WHO), infectious disease experts and e.g. the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), the Centers of Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and national health authorities in order to learn more about COVID-19 and to slow the spread of the virus.

Why slow the spread? Because the health systems of the affected countries need to be able to function in an efficient way. This is only possible if the number of COVID-19 patients does not exceed the local medical resources and capacities. If all of us are cautious and respect the principles of social distancing, we can lower the number of newly infected people per day which results in flattening the curve (c.f. link 1).

But what does this mean in real life?

Stay home if you can, even if you don’t feel sick or have any symptoms and avoid any physical social contact. Basically, quarantine yourself at home. If you do need to go outside be sure to respect the recommendations, laws or implementations issued by your local authorities. The WHO and e.g. ECDC and CDC are excellent resources regarding daily actions and precautions you can take in order to minimalize the risk of getting infected by and spreading the virus causing COVID-19.

The virus responsible is a betacoronavirus. Corona means crown and refers to the protein spikes on the lipid envelope of the virus. Coronavirus infections are common in humans and animals, and some strains are zoonotic (transmission between animals and humans are possible). Current evidence suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 responsible for COVID-19 has an animal source, but the predominant source of transmission seems to be human to human (via bodily secretions such as saliva and mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze of an infected person). Another possible route of virus transmission is the secondary route. This can occur by touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching your face (esp. mouth, nose or possibly eyes). In general, non-porous, smooth surfaces (e.g. plastic, metal) can transmit viruses better than porous, non-smooth materials (e.g. paper, pet fur).

At this point infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations, such as the WHO, the OIE, the CDC and ECDC agree there is no evidence that animals become sick and also no evidence to suggest that companion animals can be a source of infection with SARS-CoV-2, including spreading COVID-19 to people. According to the OIE, further studies are needed to understand the role of animals in the spread of this human disease.

Currently, a general consensus is, that if you are not ill with COVID-19 you can handle and interact with your pet or horse as you normally would. Be aware that some countries have implemented strict rules regarding animal handling and care in order to minimize the possible spread of SARS-CoV-2 between owners, riders, handlers, caretakers etc. Always practice good general hygiene around your animals (clean equipment/tack, water/food bowls, stables, beds and toys on a regular basis) and be sure to keep their fur or coat well-groomed.

However, because animals can also spread other diseases to people and vice-versa, it is always advisable to observe basic principles of hygiene when coming into contact with animals (e.g. wash hands thoroughly with soap before and after contact).

If you are ill with COVID-19, you should be more precautious and limit the contact with animals until more is known about the role of animals and the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. Daily activities such es feeding, grooming and playing should be performed by another member of the household. Some local shelters also offer to take care of your pet if you are tested positive. If your pet is a service animal or nobody else can take care of your animal the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends wearing a facemask, avoiding close contact with the animal (e.g. no kissing or food bowl sharing) and washing your hands before and after any contact with your pet.

Please be aware of the fact that the veterinarian community around the globe is highly impacted by the COVID-2019 pandemic. The national veterinarian medical associations and boards are closely working together with national and international agencies and organizations.

They are continuously adapting their strategies and updating their members about the measures to take during these difficult times. It is important to understand that, the authorities of many countries, have issued recommendations which might restrict the range of practicing veterinary medicine. If your animal gets sick or becomes injured, needs a refill of prescription medication or a special prescription diet food contact your veterinarian via phone or email and follow closely the instructions provided. Be aware that, due to a current shortage of personnel protection equipment (e.g. gowns, face masks, gloves), ventilators and medications for human patients, elective surgeries (surgeries that are scheduled in advance and that do not involve a medical emergency) are most likely to be postponed.

Currently the primary goals of the veterinarian community are to support the human medical health systems, to ensure the protection of the nation’s food supplies and to keep you and your animal(s) as well as the veterinarians and their staff healthy.


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/
  2. WHO: https://www.who.int
  3. CDC: https://www.cdc.gov
  4. ECDC: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en
  5. OIE: https://www.oie.int/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/

Dr. med. vet. Lena Horn is a medical consultant, veterinarian and since May 2019 new editorship member and veterinary adviser of POLO+10.
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