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Pet Science

Can my pet get monkeypox? Here's what veterinarians say

Monkeypox is serious business, but right now the risk to pets is very low.

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As monkeypox continues to spread around the world, it’s inevitable that pet owners will wonder about transmitting the disease to their pets — much like Covid-19.

But monkeypox isn’t Covid-19, and the disease transmission of monkeypox presents differently than SARS-CoV-2. With that context: Is it likely for pets to get infected with monkeypox, and, if so, how can we protect them?

Inverse spoke with veterinarians to answer these questions and provide you with the latest information. Here’s everything you need to know about monkeypox and pets.

“At this time, risk to most dogs and cats is considered low,” Ellen Carlin, assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, tells Inverse. “We do need to be alert for more cases, and there are probably some that have gone unreported,” Carlin says. She researches the epidemiology of emerging diseases and is a licensed veterinarian.

Can my pet get monkeypox?

It’s currently unknown whether cats can get monkeypox, but they are susceptible to similar viruses.Getty

Yes, although transmission from humans to pets doesn’t seem to be occurring widely yet, based on official reported cases.

“As of now, we are not seeing any official reports on monkeypox transmitted from pets to humans, and while there now appears to be a possibility of monkeypox transmission from humans to pets, it appears to be extremely rare,” Yui Shapard, a small-animal veterinarian and educational director of the Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals, tells Inverse.

“None of our pet owners have expressed concern [about monkeypox],” Sari Kanfer, a veterinarian and small mammal expert at Exotic Animal Veterinary Center, tells Inverse.

A study in The Lancet last month documented the first known case of human-dog transmission of monkeypox. Two men in France contracted the disease and presented symptoms like headaches, fever, rectal ulcers, and rashes on the legs and arms.

About 12 days after their symptoms first occurred, their dog — a four-year-old Italian greyhound — began showing typical monkeypox symptoms like lesions, rectal ulcers, and pustules on the abdomen. The researchers confirmed via PCR test that the dog was positive for the disease.

How does monkeypox spread to pets?

The CDC writes on their website:

“Infected animals can spread Monkeypox virus to people, and it is possible that people who are infected can spread Monkeypox virus to animals through close contact, including petting, cuddling, hugging, kissing, licking, sharing sleeping areas, and sharing food.”

While the disease can spread via respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact, the most common route of transmission for the variant currently spreading in the U.S. appears to be through skin-to-skin contact, specifically, contact with lesions of infected people.

In the Lancet study, the infected individuals co-sleep in the same bed with their dog, increasing the likelihood of transmission. Monkeypox can also spread through contact with the bedding or clothes of an infected person.

Understanding how monkeypox spreads from humans to animals can also help us figure out why the disease has been spreading to new, non-endemic, regions in recent months. Animals can serve as a “reservoir” for diseases, which they can circulate and spread to humans or other animals.

“Understanding animal reservoirs, including domestic pets, is critical,” Abraar Karan tells Inverse, specifically “because we don't know much about how long different species can transmit the virus, and by what routes.” Karan is an infectious disease fellow at Stanford University whose research focuses on monkeypox diagnostics and epidemiology in the Bay Area.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox in pets?

Some symptoms of monkeypox — like fever — overlap with other illnesses. Getty

“We know very little about whether and how monkeypox infects and behaves in dogs and cats,” Carlin says.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, humans and animals are not typically symptomatic during the incubation period for monkeypox, which lasts from seven to 14 days. Afterward, symptoms may present, though these may differ from the symptoms of humans.

“Initial signs of infection in animals differ slightly from those in people, and likely even differ by animal species,” writes the AVMA.

The most common symptoms across animal species are fever and swollen lymph nodes, though skin rashes are also common later in the disease progression. Other symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy or tiredness
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Lack of appetite

‘If your pet develops at least two of these signs or a pimple or blister-like rash within 21 days after possible contact with someone with monkeypox, immediately contact your veterinarian,” writes the AVMA.

From the infected dog in France, we know infected pets can present lesions on the skin. But monkeypox transmission to pets is still rare, though you should probably consult a veterinarian if you notice any lesions suddenly appearing on your pet. Exercise caution — but stay calm.

“What we don’t want pet owners to panic every time they see a bump on their pet’s skin,” Carlin says.

Can pets spread monkeypox to humans?

We have little documented evidence in this latest outbreak of monkeypox spreading from pets to humans, but in 2003, nearly 50 people became sickened with monkeypox after coming into contact with infected pet prairie dogs. So we know it’s possible for animals in a household setting to infect humans.

“People can catch monkeypox from animals, but the chance of this happening in the United States is currently low,” writes the AVMA in a statement on monkeypox.

Which pets are at the most risk of monkeypox?

Laboratory experiments suggest domestic rabbits can become infected, though it hasn’t been observed outside of experimental settings. Getty

The name “monkeypox” is a bit of a misnomer. While primates can contract and spread the disease, many other animals — especially rodents — can be carriers of monkeypox.

“Small mammals can carry the virus, sometimes without apparent symptoms, while non-human primates can get sick with monkeypox and have signs of disease like humans,” writes the CDC.

We know that dogs are susceptible to monkeypox from the Lancet study. The CDC says it is “unknown” whether cats can contract monkeypox, though the AVMA writes that it is “prudent to assume a cat might catch monkeypox” based on their general susceptibility to orthopoxviruses — a class of similar viruses including smallpox.

Before this recent outbreak, monkeypox typically spread among small mammals and rodents — like squirrels, mice, and rats — in the wild in West and Central Africa. But in older research conducted in a laboratory setting, rabbits and mice were found to be susceptible to the disease (though not guinea pigs or hamsters).

“Rabbits and rodents in the lab environment can be infected with the virus,” Kanfer says.

But for many domestic pet species, we simply don’t know yet whether they can become infected with monkeypox. For a broader list of animals that are susceptible to monkeypox, refer to the CDC website.

How can I protect my pet from monkeypox?

If you’re exposed to monkeypox, you should take steps to protect your pet from getting infected — namely, by isolating from them and preventing them from coming into contact with bedding or clothing you may have used recently.

“Wash hands regularly, and if you test positive or have suspicious symptoms stay isolated from your pets,” Shapard says.

You should not try to care for them yourselves; ideally, you should ask a non-infected household member to temporarily take care of your pet, according to the CDC. But depending on the circumstance, it may not be “logistically possible” to isolate yourself from your pet, according to Carlin. These might include living alone or with people at greater risk of severe disease from monkeypox — like young children and immunocompromised individuals.

In that case, you should probably follow the AVMA guidance, which recommends that if you did not expose your pet — i.e., did not have close contact with them after you became infected — then you can ask a friend who lives outside the household to temporarily care for your pet until you recover.

“This is a sensible precaution but may not be possible for everyone,” Carlin adds.

Follow CDC guidance on disinfecting your home before your pet returns.

What should I do if my pet gets monkeypox?

A recent Lancet study confirms that dogs can become infected with monkeypox.Getty

If your pet begins displaying monkeypox symptoms or is exposed to someone with monkeypox, it’s important that you first isolate them from other humans and animals to limit the spread of the disease. The CDC recommends quarantining your pet for 21 days after contact with an exposed person.

You should also contact your veterinarian immediately to get further medical advice and confirm whether your pet has monkeypox.

“If an owner has reason to believe his or her pet was exposed to a person diagnosed with monkeypox, and is showing lesions, those can be checked out by a vet who will determine if a diagnostic test is warranted,” Carlin says.

Important: You do not need to surrender or euthanize your pet if they get monkeypox, according to the CDC. The CDC also advises that you do not wipe your pet with chemical disinfectants — such as hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol — or place a mask on them.

Can my pet get the monkeypox vaccine?

Probably not. Carlin says the vaccine has only been approved for humans at this time — and even some of us have a hard time accessing the vaccine.

“I would not consider vaccinating exposed dogs or cats at this time, nor have I heard any talk about authorizing the vaccine for cats or dogs,” Carlin says.

If you become exposed to someone with monkeypox, the best way to protect your pet is to get yourself vaccinated as soon as possible. For more information on vaccine eligibility, read our guide on monkeypox vaccines.

The Inverse Analysis Right now, veterinarians aren’t too concerned about the spread of monkeypox to pets, but that may change in the future as the disease becomes more prevalent.

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