Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause cold-like illnesses in people, while others cause illness in certain types of animals, such as cattle, camels, and bats. Some coronaviruses, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, infect only animals and do not infect people.
Some coronaviruses that infect animals can be spread to people and then spread between people, but this is rare. This is what happened with SARS-CoV-2, which likely originated in bats. Early reports of infections were linked to a live animal market in Wuhan, China, but the virus is now spreading from person to person.
SARS-CoV-2 spreads easily from person to person. People who are physically near (within 6 feet) a person with COVID-19 or have direct contact with that person are at greatest risk of infection. At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people. Based on the available information to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. More studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by SARS-CoV-2.
We are still learning about this virus, but we know that it can spread from people to animals in some situations, especially during close contact.
For information on how to protect pets from possible infection with SARS-CoV-2, see If You Have Pets.
We know that companion animals like cats and dogs, big cats in zoos or sanctuaries, gorillas in zoos, mink on farms, and a few other mammals can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but we don’t yet know all of the animals that can get infected. There have been reports of animals infected with the virus worldwide. Most of these animals became infected after contact with people with COVID-19.
- A small number of pet cats and dogs have been reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in several countries, including the United States. One ferret was reported positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Slovenia.
- Several animals in zoos and sanctuaries have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, including big cats (lions, tigers, pumas, cougars, snow leopards) and non-human primates (gorillas) after showing signs of illness. It is suspected that these animals became sick after being exposed to an animal caretaker with COVID-19. In many situations, this happened despite the staff wearing personal protective equipment and following COVID-19 precautions.
Mink and SARS-CoV-2
SARS-CoV-2 has been reported in mink on farms in multiple countriesexternal icon, including the United States.
- In the United States, respiratory disease and increases in mink deaths have been seen on most affected mink farms. However, some infected mink might also appear healthy.
- Infected workers likely introduced SARS-CoV-2 to mink on the farms, and the virus then began to spread among the mink. Once the virus is introduced on a farm, spread can occur between mink, as well as from mink to other animals on the farm (dogs, cats).
- One wild mink found near an affected Utah farm was found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, there is no evidence that the virus is currently circulating in free-living wildlife in the United States.
- Currently, there is no evidence that mink are playing a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people. However, there is a possibility of mink spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people on mink farms. Mink to human spread of SARS-CoV-2 has been reported in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Poland, and new data suggest it might have occurred in the United States.
- Investigations found that mink from a Michigan farm and a small number of people were infected with SARS-CoV-2 that contained unique mink-related mutations (changes in the virus’s genetic material). This suggests mink to human spread might have occurred.
- The animals on the farm have since tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 twice, and the infected people have since recovered.
- Finding these mutations in mink on the Michigan farm is not unexpected because they have been seen before in mink from farms in the Netherlands and Denmark and also in people linked to mink farms worldwide.
- Currently there is limited information available about the genetics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has infected people living in the communities near the mink farm. Thus, it is difficult to know with certainty whether the mink-related virus mutations originated in people or in mink on the farm.
- To confirm the spread of SARS-CoV-2 from mink to people, public health officials would need more information on the epidemiology and genetics of the virus in mink, mink farm workers, and the community around mink farms.
- These results highlight the importance of routinely studying the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 in susceptible animal populations like mink, as well as in people.