Following the results of a Pomeranian who recently tested positive for the new coronavirus COVID-19 in Hong Kong, many pet parents have been asking the question, "Can my pet get coronavirus?"
As we are discovering, there is much still to understand about how the new coronavirus operates and its impacts on human health. But what about our pets?
Can my pet catch coronavirus?
So far, it appears that our pets are not being impacted in the same way as the human population. This is despite a Pomeranian in Hong Kong recently being tested positive for the virus. It is believed the dog contracted the virus from its owner who had also tested positive.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease nor that they become sick. As a result, apart from practicing good hygiene, like washing hands thoroughly and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth after petting a companion animal, there is no reason to take any other measures.
If you do contract the COVID-19 virus or are feeling unwell, the WHO recommends having someone else, either inside or outside the household take care of the pet. This is primarily for precautionary measures.
So can humans infect our pets?
This is a question still being explored by the medical industry, although given the Pomeranian case in Hong Kong, it is believed that human to animal transmission did in fact occur. However, it is important to note that the dog showed no symptoms, and after being quarantined for some weeks, subsequently tested negative to the virus.
To date, the spread of the COVID-19 virus is said to be a result of human to human transmission. There is also no evidence to suggest that the reverse is possible and the humans are contracting the virus from our pets. Research still needs to be conducted to better understand how the virus operates, but the important take-away is to ensure we are using good hygiene practices at all times.
How should I interact with my pet if I get sick?
On 12 March 2020, research platform Science published a Q&A with Shelley Rankin, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia about the risks of COVID-19 infection in pets. Here is an edited version of the discussion, as provided by Science.
Q: Can we pass the new coronavirus to our pets?
A: The SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads from humans to humans. There is no research to support human to animal spread at this time. Samples from the Hong Kong dog had a small number of virus particles present. In an animal with no clinical signs of disease, it’s hard to say what this means. It was a single case, and we learned that we need to do a lot more research into the potential of the human SARS-CoV-19 virus to infect animals.
That said, cats and dogs are mammals too. They have many of the same types of receptors on their cells that we do. So the virus could theoretically attach to these receptors. But will it enter their cells and replicate? Probably not.
Still, people infected with SARS-CoV-19 should limit contact with their pets. Wash your hands, and don’t let them lick you on the face. If the virus is in your secretions, and there’s any potential of transmission, these are ways it could be transmitted.
Q: Should we be testing the pets of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19?
A: That’s [not] everybody’s top priority right now. It should be discussed, however, if we start seeing more cases like the Hong Kong Pomeranian.
Q: Can pets serve as a reservoir of the virus and pass it back to us?
A: If pets can become infected—and we don’t know if they can—then yes, they could serve as a reservoir. And in that case, we’d need to deal with them the same way we’re dealing with human cases. We’d need to figure how to treat them. Like human hospitals, vet hospitals would have to be prepared for a surge in the number of cases.
Q: Would we quarantine our pets too?
A: Yes, just like humans, some might be quarantined at a hospital. Or a shelter. Or even a doggy day care. If they had the virus but weren’t sick, you could quarantine them at home. You’d want to limit your contact with them. Perhaps keep them in a bedroom away from other people and animals. You’d want to wash your hands frequently, and perhaps wear a mask when you entered the room.
Q: If you have people in the same house—some quarantined, some not—can the pet visit both?
A: No. Out of an abundance of caution, the answer should be no.
Q: What should we be doing right now to protect our pets?
A: It is important to include pets in your family's preparedness planning. If you get sick and are quarantined, you should make sure you have extra pet food on hand. And you should make your neighbors aware of any feeding, walking, or medications that your pets need in case you can’t make it back home. Get prepared now. I live alone with my cat. I have extra food on hand. Even if he doesn’t need it [soon], he’s going to eat it eventually.