COVID- 19 is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. There is not a definitive answer about whether this virus can infect pets at the moment. However, there is no cause for panic presently when dealing with pets. There is still currently no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to people.
It has been reported that a 17-year-old Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong showed weak positives for the presence of SARS-CoV2 genetic material in samples collected from its nose and mouth. The test used to detect this was sensitive and specific and known to not cross react with other coronaviruses that dogs and cats have previously been known to contract and show clinical symptoms to. Please note that these other coronaviruses have been around in pets for years and been managed by veterinarians and importantly cannot infect humans. In dogs and cats, they have caused symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea and in cats also occasionally a condition called feline infectious peritonitis. Again, these are caused by different viruses than the COVID-19 virus and are not known to infect people.
Whilst the testing on the Pomeranian dog indicated the presence of the virus it did not determine if it was able to be infectious at all. Subsequent tests to try to see if the dog mounted an immune response to the virus by producing antibodies was carried out. Initial tests were negative, subsequent tests did show the dog to be antibody positive. However, there is still no evidence of the dog being able to transmit the virus to humans. Another dog in Hong Kong also appeared to test positive for the virus after contact with a human owner confirmed to have COVID-19 and again showed no evidence of being able to transmit infectious virus. Finally, there has been a report of a cat in Belgium testing positive for the virus and developing vomiting, diarrhoea and respiratory signs after contact with a COVID-19 infected owner. Again, there is no evidence of the cat transmitting the virus back to humans.
These 3 cases are the only known cases presently in the world of human to animal transmission, so it remains exceedingly rare.
More recently on March the 13th IDEXX laboratories evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens for the COVID-19 virus and obtained no positive results.
With all the current information infectious disease experts have agreed there is currently no evidence to indicate pets can spread it to other animals or humans. Direct human to human transmission remains the most likely way for the virus to spread. At this stage there is no indication that testing of companion animals is necessary in Australia.
But what about the virus surviving on a pet’s fur and the pet acting as a fomite (an object that may be contaminated with infectious organisms and serve in their transmission)? COVID-19 is most commonly spread through contact with infectious droplets in a person’s cough or sneeze but can be transmitted on fomites. Smooth surfaces like doorknobs and benches transmit viruses much better than porous materials. Porous materials, of which pet fur is one tend to be more likely to trap and absorb the pathogen. Therefore, this is a much less likely way to contact the virus.
However, as per the Australian Veterinary Association recommendations it is always important to practice good hand hygiene by washing hands for 20 seconds before and after handling your pet and their food and water bowls, particularly if you have COVID-19, are unwell or are self-quarantined. Additionally, if you have COVID-19, are unwell with flu like symptoms or under government mandated self-quarantine and your pet becomes unwell please be assured they can continue to receive veterinary care with us. Contact our team prior to visiting the clinic to find out your options. We currently are offering video and phone consults for people unable to leave their homes.
At Lynbrook Vet we will continue to offer compassionate, flexible service to our clients in these times and will continue to update our clients and pet owners about the evolving situation. If you have any questions about this blog or your pet, please feel free to contact us on 8373 0301.