Sales of pet face masks spiked 500% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Top vets tell us why animals shouldn't wear one

A company selling face masks for pets has reported booming sales for 2020 – but top vets told Insider you shouldn't put a mask on your pet.

Sales for New York-based company Pet Masks increased roughly sixfold during the pandemic, the Southwest News Service (SWNS) reported.

People had previously bought the $25 masks as a novelty or to protect their cats and dogs from pollution, the company's founde, Salitia Henwick, told the news agency.

But sales have boomed during the pandemic as people look to protect both their pets and themselves from COVID-19. This is despite the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and UK vet charity PDSA all telling people not to put masks on their furry friends because it can distress them as well as making it difficult for them to breathe.

Pet Masks isn't the only store selling face masks for cats and dogs.

Dog face mask
A man and a dog where matching face masks in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2020.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

k9 Mask in Austin, Texas, makes face masks to protect against pollution, dust, and smoke, partially inspired by the growing number of California wildfires. Though the company doesn't claim its masks protect against COVID-19, its sales quadrupled in just one week in January 2020 as worried pet owners looked to protect their animals.

"We can't 100% guarantee that it will protect your pet, all we can say is the filters were designed using the exact recommendation the CDC suggests for humans to wear to protect against bacteria," Kirby Holmes, founder of k9 Mask, told Fox Business at the time.

Read more: What's coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here's the latest on 9 leading programs, after Pfizer and Moderna

It isn't just in the US that people have been scrambling to buy masks for their pets. Some of k9's orders came from overseas customers in China, Japan, and Australia, and a Beijing-based seller told MailOnline demand for speciality dog masks was up tenfold only a month after China confirmed its first COVID-19 case.

But animals shouldn't be wearing face masks, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) told Insider. 

Pets can catch COVID-19, but most only experience mild illness and fully recover, it explained.

Dog face mask
A dog wears a face mask at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on June 18, 2020.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Wearing a mask can be distressing" for pets, UK pet charity PSDA noted, and may affect their ability to breathe normally, particularly in flat-faced breeds.

In one instance, PDSA had to perform emergency surgery on a cocker spaniel after he ate a face mask which blocked his intestines. The dog hadn't been wearing the mask, and had likely stolen it from his owner's bag.

Can pets spread COVID-19?

The risk of dogs and cats spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be "low," but the virus has been known to spread from humans to animals.

CDC guidance tells people to "treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household."

Similarly, people should avoid unnecessary interactions with animals outside of their own household, AVMA said.

Pets should also social distance from each other, the Food and Drug Administration said in May. Its guidelines said cats should be kept indoors during the pandemic and dogs should stay at least six feet from other humans and animals.

Dog face mask
A pet dog wears a special mask on December 24, 2020 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province of China.
Huang Jinkun/VCG via Getty Images

People who are ill with COVID-19 should isolate from their pets, the CDC said. These people should get someone else to care for their pets, but if this is not possible they should wear a mask and gloves while handling their pet when ill, AVMA told Insider.

"There is no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur, or hair of pets," the CDC said in its guidance.

Alongside masks, people shouldn't use products including chemical disinfectants, alcohol, hand sanitizer, and counter-cleaning wipes on their pets, it added.