Pets and Covid 19

12th March 2020
Beryl Shuttleworth
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dog in mask

Widespread panic happened when Hong Kong authorities confirmed that a dog tested positive for COVID-19 in February. But what does this actually mean for us pet-owning humans? Can our pets get Covid-19? Will they die from it? Can they give it to us?

When the Pomerarian was first found to test positive, it was assumed that the virus was present on the surface of the dog, probably via contamination with an infected human. But, upon deeper investigation, the dog was found to actually be infected with the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The virus enters the human cell via a receptor called ACE2 (cellular angiotensin converting enzyme). This receptor is identical or similar to those present in many mammals, including orangutans, monkeys, pigs, ferrets and cats. So, the idea that COV-2 might infect these animals is not illogical.

In April several New York City zoo animals, including a lion and a tiger, tested positive. These animals likely picked the virus up from an infected employee and have recovered well.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been quick to quell panic and allay fears. Previously, during the SARS outbreak (also a coronavirus), a few cats were found positive for the virus. This, although there was zero evidence for it, caused panic that the virus would be transferred back to humans. Cats were abandoned and even killed and cat owners were badly stigmatised.

Pets have become victims in other ways during this pandemic. Many were left at home alone when their owners were hospitalised. Some were given away or even killed by those fearful that they would spread the disease. And pets too are victims of the massive wave of poverty and unemployment that has followed in the wake of Covid-19.

But, in actual fact, despite an upturn in the number of pets tested, very very few have been found to be positive. Also, a study of cats and dogs in prolonged close contact with 19 Covid-19 patients in a veterinary campus found zero infections in the animals. Pet infections seem to be a rare phenomenon.

One infected dog died. But this dog also had Lymphoma, which probably contributed.

Pets that are infected are only very weakly positive, and do seem to produce antibodies. There is, however, zero evidence that the virus would spread in the opposite direction back to humans.

But, that said, WHO recommends these precautions:

  • washing your hands after touching your pet
  • no kissing
  • wiping down paws after a walk
  • quarantining pets if their owners are infected

Anyway, if we are going to be quarantined or self isolating, who better to share our space than our best friends, our pets.

Takeaway facts:

  • Your pet might be able to get Covid-19
  • Its likely your pet can’t give it to you
  • He/she is not likely to die from it
  • If you are quarantining, keep your pet at home as well
  • Wash your hands often

For more information, try these links:

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