With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people from their friends, family and even their partners in some cases, many are looking for pets to keep them company.

Second Chance, a privately funded animal rescue organization near Boonville, has seen what its director called a 4000% increase in demand for animal adoptions and fostering.

According to director Giulia Hall, the organization would normally see one application to foster a pet per week. Since the pandemic started, it’s received around 40 per week.

“It’s just been mind-blowing, like completely crazy,” Hall said.

She said the organization has also seen more people “trolling” the website for animals to adopt.

“I think they just really want companionship,” she said.

Second Chance is vetting people to ensure they aren’t sick before allowing them to adopt or foster animals.

If the shelter receives an animal from someone who could be high-risk for the coronavirus, they’ll quarantine the animal for 14 days, Hall said. Most of the work surrounding contracts can be done online and families can “meet” animals in a large open field by the shelter, she said.

The likelihood of the virus spreading through pets is very small, according to Leah Cohn, a professor and Small Animal Internal Medicine Service Chief at the University of Missouri’s Veterinary Health Center.

At this point, there have only been four recorded instances of dogs or cats testing positive for the virus, Cohn said. Two dogs have tested positive, but didn’t actually get sick. Both lived with owners who had COVID-19.

While the dogs of COVID-19 patients haven’t been widely tested in the United States yet, they have been tested in China and in a French study in which 20 veterinary students living together on the same dorm floor became infected with the virus, but none of their pets did.

Two cats have tested positive for the virus: a Belgian cat whose owner was infected with the virus, and a tiger at the Bronx Zoo who was cared for by an infected zookeeper. The tiger was part of a coughing group of lions and tigers, but because it is so hard to test the large animals for the coronavirus – Cohn said the process requires general anesthesia – only one was tested.

“In the world, with well over 2 million people infected, there are exactly two cats that are likely to have had clinical signs, and one of those is a tiger,” Cohn said. “No uptick of illness in cats has been noticed by veterinarians, no jump in respiratory disease or any other disease signs in cats that are unexplained.”

She said it appears that cats naturally may be able to become infected with the virus if they’ve been in close contact with an infected person, but that it’s very unlikely they will become sick.

Researchers who have tried to infect domesticated pets with the virus for experimental purposes have had better luck infecting cats than dogs. The virus was able to replicate more strongly in cats, but there’s been no evidence of them getting sick from the virus.

“We don't know if there would ever be a situation where the cats would have enough replication that they could potentially spread an infection to a human being,” Cohn said. “The chances of getting an infection are massively greater from exposure to a human being than they are from a cat. We can't say that there's zero chance, but it's going to be an extraordinarily minimal chance.”

Cohn said there is zero evidence at all of a dog or a cat transmitting the infection to human beings, adding that it’s much more likely the virus will be spread from pet owners to their animals.

That’s because dogs and cats have different receptors that the virus uses to gain entrance to the cells and cause infection, Cohn said.

The receptors that it uses in humans are structurally different from the receptors in dogs. Cats’ receptors are slightly more similar to human receptors than dogs’, which is why cats are somewhat more likely to get infected. But there’s still a low chance, Cohn said.

Despite the low risk, Cohn suggests people still practice social distancing with their pets.

“Don't let your dog go meet strangers and have lots of interaction with strangers right now as we're going through this on the very very, very low risk chance that it might be on their fur or something like that,” she said.

But while you should probably keep your dogs away from other humans at the dog park, there’s no harm in dogs interacting with other dogs, she said.

Cohn also said the virus can’t be spread through livestock or food.

It’s a primarily human-spread virus, she said, so the likelihood of a cow or pig getting it is small. And once an animal is dead, the virus is dead, too.

“Meat is from an animal that is dead, and a virus can only replicate in animals that are alive,” Cohn said. “So a virus can't replicate unless it's in a living being. So for a short amount of time, yes, there would be virus after slaughter of the pig. But by the time the pig is processed, packaged, goes to a grocery store, you get it off the shelf and cook the meat ... no, there's not any way that you've been affected that way.”

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