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COVID Questions: Pet sitting; sterilizing immunity

March 31, 2021 By Kristina LeVan

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to

Q: It’s my understanding that pets can contract COVID-19. If I need someone to watch my pet for a week, what is the safest option? Is it best to board the pet in a facility, such as a veterinary clinic? Or have someone visit my pet in my home while I’m gone? Should that someone be vaccinated, or does that not matter?

A: While there are reports of pet dogs, cats and ferrets contracting SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID in humans) from close contact with humans who are ill with COVID-19, this has not been identified as a common problem in the past year. According to the CDC, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low but it is possible that people positive for COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact. The CDC suggests that pets should be treated like other family members – don’t let them interact with people outside of your household. If you choose to travel and need to board your pet, contact the boarding facility and ask about their COVID-19 screening policies for their employees. If you hire a pet sitter to come into your home, hiring someone who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is the safest option for you and your pet.

—Ruthanne Chun, associate dean for clinical affairs and director of UW Veterinary Care; clinical professor, oncology

Q: I have received my two doses of the Moderna vaccine. My neighbor, who also has been vaccinated, told me that if I was exposed to someone with COVID, the virus would only “live” on me for 10 minutes. This sounds crazy to me. Is it true?”

A: It sounds like your neighbor wants you to appreciate how well the vaccine works against transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The 10-minute claim is perhaps too bold and implies that the vaccines universally induce what is called “sterilizing immunity.” This is immunity that prevents infection with SARS-CoV-2 and any replication of the virus that enters your nasopharynx or other point of entry after exposure.

We already know that many vaccinated participants in the Moderna and Pfizer trials experienced “breakthrough infections.” These are infections with SARS-CoV-2 that occur more than two weeks after the second dose of vaccine and can be detected with COVID-19 testing. However, being infected is not the same as being infectious. New recommendations from the CDC do acknowledge the growing evidence that the vaccines do reduce the risk of on transmission, but further studies are ongoing.

—Ajay Sethi, associate professor of population health sciences

Tags: covid-19