What is the risk of monkeypox spreading to pets?

To what pets can humans transmit monkeypox virus (MPXV)? For example, can dogs, cats and rodents get monkeypox? Due to the increase in the number of people infected with this virus in multiple non-endemic countries, including France, ANSES received an urgent request to answer these questions.

The animal species at greatest risk of contamination by humans

The monkeypox virus (MPXV) is a zoonosis endemic to West and Central Africa, where the virus has been detected in various species of wild animals without any formal identification of the reservoir.

In the available scientific literature, there are few or no data on the susceptibility of pets to monkeypox. The Agency therefore underlines that the conclusions of its expert appraisal are subject to change.

In the current state of knowledge:

  • lagomorphs such as rabbits (especially young rabbits) and hares are susceptible and sensitive in experimental conditions. These are the most common exotic pets;
  • members of the family Sciuridae, including squirrels and prairie dogs, also appear to be susceptible and sensitive and may be at greatest risk of becoming contaminated by humans. However, these animals are not allowed to be kept or sold in France;
  • pet rodents, such as brown rats, mice, guinea pigs and hamsters, do not appear to be very susceptible to the virus in adulthood, although younger animals may be susceptible;
  • There are no data for ferrets and dogs. Regarding cats, only one serological study has been conducted; it showed negative results. At this point in time, no clinical cases have been reported for any of these three species.

Susceptibility and sensitivity: what’s the difference?

Susceptibility to a virus refers to the likelihood of an animal species hosting the virus without necessarily developing symptoms.

Sensitivity refers to the likelihood of the animal species showing clinical signs and/or lesions due to the virus.

Recommendations to prevent the virus from spreading to pets

If you become infected with monkeypox virus, you should take the following precautionary measures:

  • avoid contact with your pet as much as possible, ideally by having someone else look after it while you are isolating;
  • before coming into contact with your pet, wash your hands and wear gloves and a single-use mask.

These recommendations may be refined as new data become available.

Pending additional data on the sensitivity and susceptibility of pets, veterinarians treating animals whose owners are symptomatic are advised to be highly vigilant. This will ensure the detection of any early signs of the virus spreading from humans to animals. A monitoring programme involving field veterinarians will need to be organised to that end.

A new forthcoming expert appraisal

By the end of 2022, a new expert appraisal will supplement these initial findings. It will assess the risk of the virus spreading to peridomestic fauna (especially rodents) and the environment, and will also determine what measures should be taken to prevent and monitor the spread of the virus. The risk of the virus being imported by infected animals will also be assessed.