News of two pet dogs in Hong Kong, a 17-year old Pomeranian and a 2-year-old German Shepherd which were tested for coronavirus sparked panic that domestic dogs and cats could be transmitters of the virus. However according to the World Health Organization and veterinary experts at press time, you likely don't have to worry about spreading it to your furry friends (or them spreading COVID-19 to you).
Although one of the dogs has died two days after being released from a government quarantine having been declared virus-free, some animal welfare experts have suggested that dog’s death could have been caused by the stress of being quarantined and separated from its owner and not from the virus. The AFCD had initially tested the dog on Feb. 26 and quarantined it for the standard 14 days after detecting low levels of the Covid-19 from its nasal and oral cavity samples.
When it comes to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, there's still a lot we don't know. The disease causes flu-like symptoms in people, including fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, and it also ranges widely in severity. The most vulnerable populations include the elderly, immunocompromised, and those with existing lung and heart conditions, but the disease has manifested and progressed in unpredictable ways. Because it's so new, humans don't have any built-in immunity to COVID-19, and doctors are still learning how it behaves in the human body and how to best address it.
When it comes to your pets, according to the World Health Organization and veterinary experts at press time, you likely don't have to worry about spreading it to your furry friends (or them spreading COVID-19 to you). “Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare,” the animal health organization said.
Hong Kong's AFCD also stressed that there is currently no conclusive evidence that pet animals such as dogs or cats can spread COVID-19 or that pet animals can be a source of infection to people. “This is, however, a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available,” it added.
UPDATE 27 March 2020:
According to a report in The Brussel Times, the first cat in the world to be infected by the COVID-19 has been diagnosed in Liège. The veterinary medicine faculty in Liège reported that the cat which lived in close contact with its owner started showing symptoms a week after its owner did. “The cat had diarrhoea, kept vomiting and had breathing difficulties. The researchers found the virus in the cat’s faeces,” said professor Steven Van Gucht from the veterinary medicine faculty in Liège. “We want to stress that this is an isolated case,” he told the Belgian newspaper. “The risk of animal-to-human transmission is very small.” It was not reported if the cat is still alive at the time of writing. There is still no conclusive evidence at this time that your pet animals can be vectors of the outbreak. The two previous dogs on which the COVID-19 virus was detected bore no symptoms of the disease. Thus it is advised that we do not abandon our pets. However experts suggest that we should not rub noses with our pets.
Those sentiments were echoed by Jane Sykes, chief veterinary medical officer at the University of California, Davis. Cats and dogs, she said, may be “dead-end” hosts for the virus, meaning they could become infected but don’t shed enough of the virus to transmit it to humans other animals. So far, there are no known cases of pets transmitting the virus to people, but there’s not enough data to tell for sure if that’s possible. But generally, “you’re more likely to get infected from another person,” Sykes added.
Household pets likely cannot transmit COVID-19.
The World Health Organization (at press time for this story) reported that your pet likely cannot transmit COVID-19 to you. While there has been two dogs which have been infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. Pet owners should always maintain good hygiene practices and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, petting a dog’s fur is a low risk. The AVMA’s Chief Veterinary Officer Gail Golab says “We’re not overly concerned about people contracting COVID-19 through contact with dogs and cats.” And there’s science behind that: “The virus survives best on smooth surfaces, such as countertops and doorknobs,” Golab says. “Porous materials, such as pet fur, tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract them through touch.”
Veterinarians suggests cats and dogs would not become sick from the virus.
From the two dog cases, the first dog was only tested "weak positive". "The dog never became clinically ill, and it remains unclear whether the dog tested positive from being kept in an environment with a COVID-19-infected human or if the dog truly became infected with COVID-19," explains Christie Long, DVM, head of veterinary medicine at Modern Animal. Its death was suspected to have been caused by the stress of being quarantined and separated from its owner as well as the age of the dog at that time of 17 years.
For the second dog Oral and nasal swabs returned positive readings for the German shepherd, however neither animal had shown any signs of the Covid-19 disease, according to an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) spokesman, who added that it would “closely monitor both dogs and conduct repeated tests on the animals”.
Animal health expert Professor Vanessa Barrs from City University had previously urged the public not to panic, as there was no evidence people could be infected by their pets. She also cited the Sars experience of 2003, which suggested cats and dogs would not become sick or transmit the virus to humans.
Some types of coronavirus can infect dogs especially puppies.
There are some strains of coronavirus that animals can get, especially puppies. "The disease tends to be mild and self-limiting," Long explains. "Puppies are the most at-risk for serious infection, and following your veterinarian's advice regarding keeping very young puppies quarantined at home until fully vaccinated (typically 16 weeks of age) is key to protecting them from the most common infectious diseases that can affect them."
In the case of the second dog which was found to have traces of the virus, Professor Malik Peiris, a leading public health virologist at the University of Hong Kong who helped the government analyse the specimens, mentions that a blood test would be performed, but added the sample must be taken at least 10 days after the onset of infection to allow for the antibodies to develop.
Your pets do not need a face mask.
Dogs do not need a face mask to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus COVID-19. If you are still concerned or notice a change in your dog’s health, speak to a veterinarian. And the most important protection of all: Under no circumstances should owners abandon their dogs, cats, or other pets because of COVID-19 fears.
"There's little harm in it," says Eric Toner, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, however he added "But it's not likely to be very effective in preventing it."
Animals can transmit other diseases.
There are illnesses that can transmit from animals to people. Those are called zoonotic diseases, and the CDC posits that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people are spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people are spread from animals.
Animals can transmit disease through many of the same methods humans can, via bodily fluids, feces, and surfaces like aquariums, water and food bowls, and barns. Food- and water-borne illnesses, like salmonella and E. Coli that are transmitted by raw meat and eggs or fruits and vegetables that contain trace amounts of feces, are also classified as zoonotic. Zoonotic illnesses impact young children, the immunocompromised, and those older than 65 more than others.
Humans may be able to transmit the virus but not infect pets.
Professor Malik Peiris, a leading public health virologist at the University of Hong Kong who helped the government analyse the specimens, mentioned that “It is very likely that the two positive cases [in Hong Kong] are examples of human-to-dog transmission,”
A blood test would also be performed, but added the sample must be taken at least 10 days after the onset of infection to allow for the antibodies to develop to ascertain if the pet has been infected.
You can keep yourself and your pets safe.
Idexx Laboratories, the veterinary diagnostic company said last week that it has seen no positive results in pets to date of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 or Covid-19 respiratory outbreak in humans.
The Maine-based company evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens during validation of a new veterinary test system for the Covid-19 virus. “The new test results align with the current expert understanding that the virus is primarily transmitted person-to-person and supports the recommendation against testing pets for the Covid-19 virus,” the company said.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), the professional body that represents more than 200,000 veterinarians worldwide, has urged its members to continue to wash their hands when interacting with their pets. This remains true to all pet owners who have close contact with their pets.
Always supervise young children around animals and teach them not to put their hands in their mouths after petting Fido or Fluffy. And as much as we love them, don't let your pets kiss your face, since saliva can carry germs. If you're worried about your pet tracking something nasty inside, even traces of COVID-19, The American Kennel Club notes that you can wipe their paws with paw wipes once you return indoors.
Li Lanjuan, an epidemiologist and representative of China’s National Health Commission cautioned pet owners in China to be vigilant about their own health and the health of their pets: “If pets go out and have contact with an infected person, they have the chance to get infected. By then, pets need to be isolated. In addition to people, we should be careful with other mammals especially pets.”