Humans & Dogs Are Wearing Face Masks, But Do They Help & Can Canines Even Contract Coronavirus?

On Thursday 30th January 2020, the Coronavirus outbreak was declared as a global health emergency by The World Health Organisation (WHO).

At the time of writing, the latest figures suggest more than 11,790 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wuhan, with 259 fatalities. Australia has 10 reported cases. The UK has 2 confirmed cases. Wuhan is in lockdown and travel bans are in place.

In A Nutshell : What Is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a family of viruses, capable of causing illness in humans and animals, from cats and dogs to wild animals and cattle. Prior to the Wuhan virus, there were 6 strains of coronavirus already identified. It’s called ‘coronavirus’ not after the ‘Corona’ beer but after the Latin word ‘corona’, meaning ‘crown’, due to a spiked shell resembling a royal crown encasing the virus. 

The current Coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan is a new strain of coronavirus never seen before, labelled as 2019-nCoV. As such, nobody has encountered it before and nobody is immune to it. Not much is known about the Wuhan virus, but scientists are rushing to ensure a vaccine can be made available. While the origins haven’t been confirmed, it’s thought animal food markets and bats in particular may be at the heart of the outbreak. This is a highly contagious virus, able to be spread through just a sneeze or cough. It can be spread by an infected human before their symptoms even emerge, and it can take a few weeks before that happens. 

An image showing a cartoon body and listing different symptoms of coronavirus, such as decreased white blood cells, dry cough, decreased kidney function, fever and fatigue.
A few of the coronavirus symptoms. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

There’s a lot of scepticism over official figures and whether they’re being played down, and there’s anger over the way people have been treated with the travel bans and with travellers being returned back home from China. The consensus is to not panic; the experts are working on learning more about the virus while they develop a vaccine that can be readily deployed, and contamination hospitals and protocol are in place to treat the infected and prevent further spread of the virus.

Can Dogs Contract Coronavirus?

It’s been reported that dog owners in China are rushing to get dog-specific surgical masks to protect their pooches. This has seen sellers of such masks experience a significant increase in sales. They’re designed to help keep out smog and toxins while also preventing dogs from licking or eating anything while they’re outside in the hopes of limiting their possible exposure to the virus. 

Coronaviruses in general can typically be spread between humans and animals. Dogs can contract the likes of the CRCov (canine respiratory coronavirus) and others. But the case is less clear with the recent Wuhan virus. 

A member of China’s National Health Commission, Prof. Li Lanjuan, warned that the virus can spread ‘between mammals’, urging owners to be cautious with their pets. She cautioned that if dogs come into close quarters with those infected, the pets will also need to be put in quarantine. However, no official word has some from WHO as to evidence to say our feline and canine friends can contract coronavirus. According to WHO, there have been no reported instances of pets catching the virus and no evidence to suggest they can contract it in the first place. 

Without clear evidence either way, and with very little still being known about the 2019-nCoV Wuhan virus strain, it seems to be a case of caution and prevention just to be on the safe side. 

Are surgical paper face masks effective?

A photo of many people in an airport in China wearing face masks, with the CNSTV logo at the top as this is a Wikipedia Commons image taken from a media broadcast.
Travellers taking precautions with face masks while waiting at an airport. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Experts can’t say for sure exactly how the virus is transmitted, such as whether it’s via respiratory droplets in the same way as other coronaviruses, or instead through touching surfaces. It’s not too clear how it’s passed along and as such it’s hard to say just how effective or not the masks would be. If anything, the most likely to be effective would be the N-95, a proper respiratory mask.

Some experts suggest a surgical mask might help in the case of the flu virus; it helps prevent you inhaling droplets that are in the air, providing the mask is worn consistently and that it fully covers the nose and mouth. The coronavirus does result in flu-like symptoms, but as for a mask providing protection against its spread, it doesn’t seem too likely. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance is that those infected should wear a face mask, and if you’re in the same room as others who may be infected then a mask should be worn. It’s not recommended that the general public need wear one.

A photo of a blue surgical paper face mask.

But again, the adage of “it can’t hurt” applies. While it’s not a guaranteed safeguard, it may or may not help, but it can’t hurt to err on the side of caution. It nothing else, it’s a way people can assert just a little control over a situation that otherwise feels very much out of individual control. As always, the key is to prioritise hygiene with hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, not sharing household items, and not putting yourself at unnecessary risk. As per the CDC, those infected or who are being evaluated for the virus, should be isolated to prevent the spread of infection. 

Even without proof of its effectiveness or need, would you want to make sure you & your pet were wearing surgical face masks just in case with a situation like this?

Further information : Johns Hopkins CSSE has has published a live data map showing Coronavirus case updates.

Caz  ♥

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52 Comments

  1. February 1, 2020 / 4:52 pm

    Hi love
    the only mask that works full on is the N-95
    My Sister works in the front lines as an RT

    • February 2, 2020 / 4:12 pm

      Thanks for this, Cat – I hadn’t seen that anywhere, I just reported what I could find across a few news source, all of which seemed to be equally unsure of mask effectiveness. The N-95, so a proper respiratory mask (though perhaps the most popular so hopefully some people have opted for it) but it’s rather different to the paper surgical version. At least it’s reassuring there’s something that can be effective.x

  2. Ashley
    February 1, 2020 / 5:05 pm

    I’ve heard there are shortages and stores are sold out of masks. It’s too bad, because unless you’re in close quarters with people, surgical masks protect other people from your own germs, not you from their germs.

    • February 2, 2020 / 4:14 pm

      Yeah, I think a lot have been panic buying. I read how some in other countries like the US are buying masks to ship to friends and relatives in China. x

  3. February 1, 2020 / 5:15 pm

    Great write up, Caz.
    It’s all pretty worrying how fast it’s spreading. Whether people wear a mask or not, hand washing is imperative. I always have a small bottle of alcohol-based antibacterial hand wash in the car and forget to use it! But I think just now, it’s more important than ever to develop good hygiene practice.
    I just saw a post earlier about face masks for dogs. I hadn’t given that a thought, but they reckon this strain of coronavirus came from an animal. It’s concerning when it transfers between species.
    Stay well. Think I’ll be hibernating for a while. (Which really isn’t much different from normal)

    • February 2, 2020 / 4:22 pm

      I’m not sure if or when they’ll be able to say for sure how this started but hopefully more will be learned about how exactly it spreads as that will help with prevention efforts. I agree, it’s a good time to remember the important hygiene and hand washing, whether or not that can do anything in the case of the Wuhan virus, because germs and bacteria can lead to all sorts. Hibernating really could have its benefits in this sort of instance! Thanks for the comment, Liz.xx

  4. February 1, 2020 / 6:06 pm

    Sadly, we will see many wacky ideas pop up as people panic over this serious health issue. As others have said, good hygiene is key!

    • February 2, 2020 / 4:24 pm

      I hate to think these things are doing nothing and sellers are cashing in or even putting up prices to make a quick buck (hopefully not!) It would be good to get more reassurance over what can help and be effective but I’m not sure if/when that will be, given how knowledge of the virus is still lacking. x

  5. February 1, 2020 / 6:49 pm

    Great post, Very informative

    • February 2, 2020 / 4:28 pm

      Thanks Leyla, glad you thought so! x

  6. Ruth Ciani
    February 1, 2020 / 7:58 pm

    My first steps would be to try to avoid going anywhere that I might be exposed. and to try to keep my immune system healthy and of course as you say practice good hygiene (hand washing, avoid touching your face, etc…). If I did have to go someplace where there was known risk of exposure I would wear an N95 mask. The only way my dogs would likely be a risk is if my husband or I were to catch it.

    • February 2, 2020 / 4:31 pm

      Absolutely, limit exposure, good hygiene, consider your immune system, N-95 mask. Good plan, Ruth! x

  7. February 1, 2020 / 9:51 pm

    Well done as always, Caz.

    There was an article in The New York Times written by a physician who remained in one of the areas where the Ebola epidemic raged—and kept her kids in school there. She stressed the hand washing and keeping one’s hands away from nose and mouth, and said she used the masks only when she was in the deeply affected areas or in the midst of crowds—not most of the time. And Ebola was far more serious than this coronavirus seems to be.

    Annie xo

    • February 2, 2020 / 5:17 pm

      That’s interesting, Annie. I’m not sure how the two compare, but I don’t think the experts do either as it’s not confirmed exactly how it spreads or just how damaging it is. It’s pretty worrying but it’s a good time to remember the importance of hygiene regardless, absolutely. xx

  8. February 1, 2020 / 11:50 pm

    Wonderfully written, Caz; it really is a ‘wait and see’ situation for us all.
    Our Prime Minister will deny entry to Australia to foreign travellers who have passed through mainland China in an effort to contain the virus. There will be exemptions such as family members, however, in the main our borders will be closed to travellers of this type for the short term.
    Of course, the consequences of this act will have enormous effects upon life in general for all of us should this health threat continue. And should it be a ‘storm in a teacup’, erring upon the side of caution would seem to be the better option.
    As for ‘masks’. I can’t say that I would have much faith in the masks available. I would have to agree with your first commenter, Cat.
    Once again, Caz – a great post, wonderfully written.
    xoxoxo

    • February 3, 2020 / 11:57 am

      You’re right, it’s ‘wait and see’ but it’s evolving pretty quickly. Closing off entry to those potentially from a heavily infected area sounds wise. The impact is very far reaching, not just for health and lives lost (which is the worst, in my opinion), but then for loss of earnings while areas are shut down, impact to travel and tourism industries, and so on. Fingers crossed it’s curtailed before much longer. I’m glad you liked the post, Carolyn, thank you for such a thoughtful comment! x

  9. February 2, 2020 / 4:20 am

    Seeing people and pets wearing surgical masks looks very scary. I think it only benefits families at home to help contain the spread among family members. The use outside and in the subway…not so much. If you’re sick, the best thing you can do to help prevent spreading the virus is to stay home.

    Since it can spread before symptoms show, every one should wash hands constantly and use hand and surface disinfectants on a daily basis.

    Thanks for the info Caz.

    • February 3, 2020 / 12:00 pm

      I’d agree, stay home and don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk unless vital, either. The concern is that just hygiene and surface sprays aren’t enough – I saw that Dettol, a big UK brand for disinfecting surfaces, has had to officially state it can’t ‘rid’ the coronavirus. BUT I still think it’s important anyway, as standard, and it’s best to do whatever you can regardless. Thanks for the comment, Darnell – I hope you have a good week ahead! x

  10. February 2, 2020 / 9:00 am

    So far there’s no panic here, so we don’t use masks for us or the dogs. That would probably change if there would be more fatalities, but so far I focus on improving my hygiene standards.
    Thanks for informing us, Caz xx

    • February 3, 2020 / 12:01 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Viola. It’s good the panic level is low along with the statistics, hopefully it stays that way! I think hygiene and being mindful are good to practice regardless, and I guess a situation like this serves as a prompt reminder. xx

    • February 3, 2020 / 12:20 pm

      You’re welcome, glad you found it of interest. Thanks, Barbara – have a good week! 😊

  11. February 2, 2020 / 12:48 pm

    having muzzled two dogs in the past who took some time getting used to wearing the muzzle, I can’t imagine any dog (or cat) taking kindly to a face mask. It wouldn’t last two minutes.

    • February 2, 2020 / 3:43 pm

      I wondered about that! And also, if there is any special technique for applying such mask.

      • February 3, 2020 / 12:23 pm

        Marilee – I saw an article yesterday that said there’s a proper way to remove the mask, so I imagine that’s quite important (you don’t want to be touching the outside then your face, for instance, though it’s not clear whether it could spread like that or not). They definitely need to fully cover the mouth and nose, but I hadn’t thought of whether there’s a specific way to put it on. xx

    • February 3, 2020 / 12:21 pm

      Good point, Cathy. I can’t imagine it being easy for many dogs to tolerate, and far less so cats (though I’ve not read about cats being donned with face masks..yet). x

  12. Ruth
    February 2, 2020 / 3:35 pm

    The flu kills so many people every year here in the USA. More will die from flu then coronovirus here in USA probably. As for all airborne illnesses, hand washing the biggest help. Soap and hot water!!

    • February 3, 2020 / 12:47 pm

      Oh definitely, the flu will still outrank the damage and fatalities from coronavirus in the states, and the UK, too. Providing things get contained pretty quickly, fingers crossed. As you say, do what you can to stay healthy and practice good hygiene. Thanks for the comment, Ruth.xx

    • February 3, 2020 / 3:00 pm

      Oh wow, thank you for sharing that map, it’s fantastic. I really hope you don’t need the face masks for more wildfires or anything else, but it’s certainly a good idea to have them in just in case. As Wuhan shows, once there’s an emergency there’s panic and shelves quickly go bare. Thanks for the great comment! x

  13. February 2, 2020 / 8:18 pm

    This is something, huh, this virus. My hubby is weirded out. He doesn’t even want to travel to any state where there was an infected person. Even though they are quarantined… I’m cautious but not into what ifs. You know? Weird time.

    • February 3, 2020 / 3:01 pm

      Sounds like hubby is pretty freaked by the whole thing because of the potential there for this to get 10x worse, which it would, but hopefully in this day and age that won’t happen. What’s already happened is bad enough. Stay safe, guys! x

  14. February 2, 2020 / 11:17 pm

    Charlee: “I don’t see anything in here about cat masks. Why no cat masks?”
    Chaplin: “Anybody tries putting a mask on me and all the claws come out.”
    Lulu: “And there’s your answer, Charlee.”

    • February 3, 2020 / 3:04 pm

      I wouldn’t want to risk losing my hands attempting to mask a cat! 😂

  15. February 2, 2020 / 11:48 pm

    Much appreciate the sane info!

    • February 3, 2020 / 3:06 pm

      There definitely seems to be some bubbling panic and, dare I say, some misinformation out there. The crux is that not enough is really known in the early stages so it’s hard to say what’s what. Thanks for the comment, da-AL – I hope the week treats you kindly 😊 x

  16. February 3, 2020 / 9:35 am

    Great write up and information. Since being in hospital with flu I have become paranoid I’ll catch this or anything else. Being a ‘vulnerable’ person with respiratory issues already, I would really struggle. When you put everything in perspective though, the risks are low.

    • February 3, 2020 / 3:47 pm

      You’re right, knowing you’re more vulnerable, be it through lung issues or a weaker immune systems, makes things like this all the more daunting. It’s good to get perspective on it to reduce the whole panic factor, but it’s still worth being mindful of things like this. Hopefully the experts will get ahead of it before too long because enough damage has already been caused. Thanks for the comment, Gemma. I hope you’re busy doing nothing but resting up & having tea and cake! xx

  17. February 3, 2020 / 12:19 pm

    This is such a great post, Caz! I’d rather read your writing any day than some other news source!

    This coronavirus is serious business. My heart goes out to anyone who has been affected by it in any way. I pray the spread of it is completely halted so that no other lives are taken too soon.

    I think the adage, “it can’t hurt,” might be able to apply here. I’m always cautious about ‘panic mode’ decisions because those fear based decisions are typically our worst ones. I agree wholeheartedly with you though – it’s definitely a grab to feel any semblance of control in a totally out of control situation. You and I both know sadly that it’s only an illusion, though.

    I’m glad you wrote this, Caz. It was a really enjoyable read! 🤗

    • February 3, 2020 / 4:13 pm

      You may be the only one who’d rather read my drivel over a news source 😂 I’ll join you in those prayers and wishes that this whole nightmare comes to a halt as soon as possible; experts are working around the clock to learn more about coronavirus, develop a vaccine and get it to the point of being able to be disseminated, and hopefully with a little more knowledge will come the ability to treat all of those infected to prevent more fatalities. It’s hard to really grasp the scope of something like this. And I totally agree, ‘it can’t hurt’ is probably the way to go with prevention strategies. Thank you so much, Holly, as always you’ve made me feel better on a grey day! I hope this week treats you well! xx

  18. February 3, 2020 / 4:27 pm

    Excellent coverage of these complexities in what we know or don’tknow about this newly identified virus.. I guess it makes sense why people seem to be reacting differently to my mask. I’m used to strange looks, but some people have seemed downright hostle when they see my mask the last week or so. I’m sure they think it has to do with this virus. N95 masks are definitely the best thing for airborne pathogens. They’re what I use. It’s scary when such outbreaks occur. We all need to do our part to stop the spread by practicing great hygiene (handwashing goes a long way) and wearing the protection necessary when in higher risk environments. Very interesting post. Thanks so much! Xx

    • February 3, 2020 / 5:29 pm

      You’ve made a good point about reactions to seeing someone wearing one. I think there’s a degree of scepticism and fear with regard to them at the moment. N95 may just be better than nothing and definitely a good time to highlight the importance of good hygiene always. Thanks for the comment, Mykie! xx

  19. February 4, 2020 / 10:15 am

    I had no idea that dogs could contract this virus too.

    • February 6, 2020 / 4:26 pm

      It seems like it’s still up for debate so a lot of owners are erring, probably quite rightly, on the side of caution. WHO said there’s no evidence to say any dogs have contracted it thus far (this was probably a week ago now) but things might have changed and I don’t imagine dogs being tested are high up the list considering the number of human patients queuing up. It’s scary to think it might pass to dogs and back to humans because obviously it could spread even more quickly if that’s the case. Thanks for the comment, Mark.

  20. February 5, 2020 / 2:13 am

    Thanks for this information. It’s a scary thing and there is a lot of misinformation out there! Here is hoping that the experts can develop a vaccine soon!

    • February 6, 2020 / 4:35 pm

      It is pretty scary when you think of the scale this is at now, just how many people have been affected. There’s scope for it to get a lot worse but experts, not to mention all the doctors and nurses, are working incredibly hard. Fingers crossed there are better ways to treat and cure it, along with a vaccine in the not too distant future. Thanks for the comment! x

  21. Mishka
    February 5, 2020 / 5:12 am

    Great post! I read somewhere that while this flu is concerning way more people have died in the US from the normal flu. The CDC estimated in Jan that 2,900 people had died. Still it’s scary how easily the CV flu passes. Made me wonder if it was in their water or something unbelievable like that.

    It’s easy for me to say I wouldn’t mask my pets but I don’t live in a downtown busy area. If someone in the house had it or I took my dog to a dog park and it could get it from another dog or drinking water from the same bowl, I just might. 🐶

    • February 6, 2020 / 4:38 pm

      ‘Regular’ flu has killed more, I’ve read that before as a means of putting the Wuhan virus into perspective. With coronavirus I guess the issue is it has the potential to get very bad (though of course it is already!) very quickly over a very short period of time. You’re right, I wouldn’t think of masking a pet either but I’d be keeping them inside constantly; if they went outside and I knew there was a risk, even if a mask wasn’t guaranteed to stop it, I’d want to take the precaution just in case. Thank you for the comment! xx

  22. February 5, 2020 / 7:53 am

    Thank you for sharing all this information

    • February 6, 2020 / 5:47 pm

      You’re very welcome – thanks for the comment, Lauren!

  23. March 15, 2020 / 8:19 pm

    Caz, I’ve never heard of dog face masks! I don’t think my dog would keep it on her face, without pawing it off. She’s an Australian Shepherd and doesn’t like to wear clothing or masks of any kind. I don’t know how people keep these on their dogs snouts… maybe by bribing them?

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