Clinical evidence suggesting varying levels of susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus infection in animals

Understanding of COVID-19 transmission, particularly as it relates to pets, is rapidly evolving. COVID-19 is primarily a human disease that is transmitted by direct person-to-person transmission in respiratory droplets.1–4 Leading experts (including the AVMA, CDC, and OIE) continue to share that there is no evidence that pets play a significant role in spreading COVID-19 disease to humans. However, there is growing evidence that pets, especially cats and ferrets, can be at risk in rare cases of being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus following exposure to infected humans. 

In light of this new information, IDEXX Reference Laboratories is making the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test available to veterinarians, allowing for a rapid, reliable, and specific testing option for rare cases when certain criteria are met.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At that point, it was believed that pets were not at risk of contracting COVID-19 from their owners. In the weeks that followed, however, there emerged several isolated reports of reverse zoonotic transmission to animals, including two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong, a cat in Belgium, and a tiger (and possibly other large felids) in the Bronx Zoo.5–7 There is evidence, including seroconversion in one dog, consistent clinical signs in the tiger and the Belgian cat, and positive virus isolation in the other dog, that at least some of these cases are true infection, not just environmental contamination. In addition, recent experimental infection studies have demonstrated that cats and ferrets can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and can transmit infection to other cats or ferrets.8,9 Infected cats and ferrets may be asymptomatic or may have fever, mild respiratory signs, or gastrointestinal signs. Neither of the two infected dogs showed clinical signs. A serologic survey suggests that asymptomatic infection in cats may be more common than previously suspected.10 Dogs appear to be more resistant to infection and especially to clinical disease compared to cats or ferrets, likely due to differences in their ACE receptors, which the virus uses to enter the cells.8,11

Based on what has been seen so far, natural human-to-pet infection appears to be very rare, often is asymptomatic, and is generally shorter in duration than human infections. IDEXX Reference Laboratories’ surveillance data,12 which demonstrates no SARS-CoV-2 positive results in over 5,000 patient specimens submitted for respiratory PCR panels across North America, Europe, and South Korea between February 14 and April 1, supports the expert opinion that reverse zoonotic transmission from humans to pets is uncommon.

IDEXX’s guidance, aligned with that of medical experts, is that veterinarians order the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test after consultation with a public health authority (for example, a state public health veterinarian in the United States) and three specific criteria are met: pet is living in a household with a human who has COVID-19 or has tested positive for the virus; pet has already been tested for more common infections, that a veterinarian has ruled out; and pet (especially cats and ferrets) is showing clinical signs consistent with COVID-19. Testing of symptomatic pets in COVID-19 infected households may not always be indicated as clinical signs, when present, may be mild and transient. The IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test may be considered when investigating respiratory disease in ferrets or cats after more common respiratory infections have been ruled out. Testing should be limited to those animals with known or strongly suspected COVID-19 exposure.

Visit to learn more about the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test and COVID-19 in pets.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Accessed April 19, 2020.
  2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Accessed April 19, 2020.
  3. American Veterinary Medical Association. COVID-19: What veterinarians need to know. Accessed April 19, 2020.
  4. World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). The new coronavirus and companion animals—advice for WSAVA members. Accessed April 19, 2020.
  5. Questions and answers on the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Surveillance and events in animals. World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) website. Updated April 9, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.
  6. Low-level of infection with COVID-19 in pet dog [news release]. Hong Kong: Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; March 4, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.
  7. USDA statement on the confirmation of COVID-19 in a tiger in New York. USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website. Updated April 6, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.
  8. Shi J, Wen Z, Zhong G, et al. Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs and other domesticated animals to SARS-coronavirus 2. Science. 2020;eabb7015. doi:10.1126/science.abb7015
  9. Kim Y, Kim SG, Kim SM, et al. Infection and rapid transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in ferrets [published online ahead of print April 5, 2020]. Cell Host Microbe. 2020;S1931-3128(20)30187-6. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2020.03.023
  10. Zhang Q, Zhang H, Huang K, et al. SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing serum antibodies in cats: a serological investigation [preprint]. doi:10.1101/2020.04.01.021196
  11. Wan Y, Shang J, Graham R, Baric RS, Li F. Receptor recognition by the novel coronavirus from Wuhan: An analysis based on decade-long structural studies of SARS coronavirus. J Virol. 2020;94(7):e00127-20. doi:10.1128/JVI.00127-20
  12. COVID-19 RealPCR Validation Studies: sequence blast analyses and cross-reactivity studies. March 2020. Data on file at IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. Westbrook, Maine USA.

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