With the growth of monkeypox cases in the United States, it’s not entirely unreasonable to question the risks, if any, that our furry friends face while at home with their infected owners.
The bad news: We don’t know if dogs or cats can get monkeypox from people, according to the CDC. However, it is possible for humans to spread the virus to animals in general by petting, cuddling, sharing sleeping and eating areas, and kissing.
Dogs and cats can be infected with other orthopoxviruses, such as the vaccinia virus, which is used in smallpox/monkeypox vaccines, but this is not a concern at the moment.
It is also unknown if less traditional pets such as gerbils, guinea pigs and hamsters can contract the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that adult rabbits are “likely” to be infected, as are mice and rats. Chinchillas and hedgehogs, which are other lesser known pets, can contract monkeypox.
Monkeypox is not endemic in the United States, which means it does not spread naturally in animals such as rodents as it does in Africa, where the virus is sometimes transmitted to humans who have been bitten or scratched.
The agency says there are still no confirmed reports of monkeypox patients being transferred to animals. The last time pet monkeypox was caught in the United States was in 2003 when domesticated prairie dogs were housed with imported rats and dormice infected with the virus; As a result, about 70 people have contracted the disease in the Midwest of the United States.
The American Veterinary Medical Association also says the chances of your pet giving your pet monkeypox are “extremely low.”
“There is absolutely no evidence to date that dogs and cats are susceptible to monkeypox or can even serve as a reservoir,” said Dr. Catherine Kessenberry, chief medical officer at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York. “This does not mean that the risk is zero, but that it is unlikely to happen.”
No, your pet can’t get monkeypox while hiking or picnicking in the park, according to Carlos Romero, MD, professor emeritus in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
This does not mean that infected people should not take precautions around their pets.
“The information we have about what monkeypox does to pets in this country is not there,” Romero said. “It’s a big question mark but a cause for concern, and maybe that’s possible because of what we’ve seen in the past with other species.”
What to do with your pets if you get monkeypox
To err on the side of caution, the CDC and the experts we spoke to said, people with monkeypox should avoid contact with pets, as well as wildlife, to prevent the virus from spreading. You should also keep them away from any bandages or body fluids if you have monkeypox.
If you are the only one available to take care of your pets, it is best to wash your hands before and after touching them. For extra caution, you can cover any rashes or cuts with long sleeves, long pants, or gloves. The CDC also suggests wearing a mask around your pets; Although the virus is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact, it can also be found in respiratory droplets and saliva.
Pets should be kept in another home if possible until they recover in case you have not been in close contact with them.
Before welcoming your pet home, be sure to disinfect any sink, bedding, towels, toys, or food utensils that you may have touched and will come into contact with.
Romero said monkeypox is a “highly tolerant virus” and that it is difficult to eradicate because it is particularly resistant in various environmental conditions. “It can lie on the ground protected for weeks, different from the coronavirus being destroyed within minutes.”
Researchers have found that live monkeypox virus survived inside an infected person’s home for 15 days after they left, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies also show that other related orthopoxviruses can survive in home-like environments for weeks or months, and that viruses can survive longer on porous materials such as bedding and clothing than on non-porous ones such as plastic, glass and metal.
With that said, the virus is sensitive to soaps, disinfectants, detergents, and other cleaning products, says the CDC. So a simple wiping or washing in the laundry should destroy it.
What to do if your pet is exposed to monkeypox
If your pet has been exposed to monkeypox, the CDC advises it to stay indoors and away from people and other animals for at least 21 days.
Some people, including those who are pregnant, immunocompromised, caregivers of young children, or have a history of atopic dermatitis or eczema, should not care for an animal that has been exposed to monkeypox because they have a high risk of developing severe disease.
And if it’s not already clear, don’t wipe or bathe your potentially infected pet with chemical disinfectants, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, hand sanitizer, wipes, or other potentially hazardous cleaners not intended for animals.
Experts aren’t sure what monkeypox looks like in dogs and cats, but they suspect the symptoms are similar to those seen in humans and other infectious diseases, such as:
- low energy
- lack of appetite
- A discharge or crust from the nose or eyes
- Lesions or rashes that look like blisters or pimples
- Flu-like symptoms such as cough, runny nose, fever and red eyes
If you think your pet has monkeypox, you should contact your vet or local health officials so they can check the source of the infection (if it’s not you).
Can humans or pets transmit monkeypox to other animals?
We’ve learned during the ongoing COVID pandemic that people can spread the coronavirus to domestic and wild animals, including lions, deer, tigers, dogs, cats, otters, hyenas and hippos, in what scientists call “reverse zoonoses.”
Fortunately, human-to-human spread of COVID, as well as animal-to-animal transmission, has not, to our knowledge, led to an entirely new reservoir in which the coronavirus can spread. However, it makes sense to at least consider the chances of this happening with monkeypox.
Fortunately, experts aren’t convinced we have to worry about that.
“That’s too far away at this point,” Romero said. “Someone has to do something really, really crazy to infect a wild rodent, and I can’t think of what.”
Quesenberry said she wouldn’t say there was absolutely no risk, but there was no evidence that it was likely to happen if monkeypox got out of hand.
As of August 4, there were 6,617 cases of monkeypox in the United States, and 26,208 cases globally.