After reports from Hong Kong of a pet dog with a ‘low level of infection’ with the novel coronavirus, some people worried about whether pets can catch the virus, or whether they can catch the virus from cats and dogs.

While the dog in question did have the virus in its mouth and nose, it didn’t develop any symptoms. There are no reports of any other pets becoming ill with COVID-19.

There is no current evidence that pets such as cats and dogs can transmit the virus to people and there are no reports of people being infected by pets. People ill with COVID-19 are advised to restrict their handling of pets and if possible to have them cared for by someone else.

Everyone should take sensible precautions when handling pets, such as washing hands properly afterwards, and not letting pets lick them on the face.

 

Where did the story come from?

At the end of February, the Hong Kong government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department reported that the pet dog of a patient with COVID-19 had tested positive for coronavirus in Hong Kong. This prompted questions about whether pets could be spreading the virus, and whether they should be put into quarantine.

 

What is the basis for the claim?

The test for the coronavirus looks for the presence of its genetic material (called RNA). Tests on the pet dog by the Hong Kong authorities found a small quantity of this RNA in its nose and mouth five days after it had been removed from the patient’s home. It was unclear whether there were intact coronaviruses (which could be infectious) or just pieces of RNA, which would not be infectious. Blood tests later showed that the dog was not producing detectable levels of antibodies against the coronavirus. This means it’s less likely that the virus was widespread in the dog.

The report said the dog had shown no signs of disease and it was likely that the virus had been transmitted to the dog from the dog’s owner, who was sick with COVID-19. As a result of their findings the Hong Kong government recommended that cats, dogs or other mammalian pets from families where someone had confirmed COVID-19 should be put into quarantine.

However, the statement acknowledged that there is “no evidence at this time that mammalian pet animals including dogs and cats could be a source of infection to other animals or humans.”

SARS-CoV-2 (the official name for the virus causing the current human outbreak) is a beta-coronavirus. Alpha- and beta-coronaviruses usually infect mammals, while gamma-  and  delta-coronaviruses  usually  infect  birds  and  fish. Coronaviruses known to infect dogs (canine coronavirus) and cats (feline coronavirus) are both alpha-coronaviruses and not linked to the current outbreak. Some strains of coronavirus can be transmitted between humans and animals, but many strains cannot.

 

What do trusted sources say?

The WHO says: “While there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19.”

 

The World Organisation for Animal Health said: “The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.”

 

The organisation added: “When possible, people who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid close contact with their pets and have another member of their household care for their animals.”

Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser

 

Citation

  1. The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Low-level of infection with COVID-19 in Pet Dog (press release). 4 March 2020 https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202003/04/P2020030400658.htm (Accessed 17 March 2020]
  2. The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. New updates on low level of infection with COVID-19in pet dog (fact sheet). 5 March 2020. https://www.pets.gov.hk/english/highlights/files/New_Updates_on_Low-level_of_Infection_with_COVID-19_in_Pet_Dog_0503__eng.pdf (Accessed March 17 2020)

 

Reading list

  1. Science magazine. Quarantine the cat? Disinfect the dog? The latest advice about the coronavirus and your pets. 12 March 2020. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/quarantine-cat-disinfect-dog-latest-advice-about-coronavirus-and-your-pets (Accessed March 17 2020)
  2. World Health Organization. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). 9 March 2020 https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses. (Accessed March 17 2020)
  3. World Small Animal Veterinary Association. The new coronavirus and companion animals – advice for WSAVA members. March 7 2020. https://wsava.org/news/highlighted-news/the-new-coronavirus-and-companion-animals-advice-for-wsava-members/ (Accessed March 17 2020)
  4. World Organisation for Animal Health. Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). https://www.oie.int/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/ [Accessed March 17 2020]

Hear what hygiene expert Dr. Elizabeth Scott from Simmons University, Boston has to say: