The WHO’s coronavirus myth-buster page said there was no evidence that animals such as dogs or cats could be infected with the virus. Today, that section is gone, the revised stance comes in the wake of an infected dog being found in Hong Kong.
When a Pomeranian in Hong Kong tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 last week, pets quickly became part of the coronavirus conversation. The case raised the alarming possibility that pets could become part of the transmission chain for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which could potentially harm both them and us. But many questions remain about this possibility and how best to respond.
Hong Kong authorities have warned people to avoid kissing their pets, but also to not panic and abandon them after a dog repeatedly tested “weakly positive” for coronavirus.
As Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) explained in a fact sheet last week, the Pomeranian tested “weakly positive” for the virus insensitive tests that detected viral RNA in the nose and mouth samples. “The dog has a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission,” AFCD wrote. “We strongly advise that mammalian pet animals including dogs and cats from households with … infected persons should be put under quarantine … to safeguard public and animal health.”
What Causes COVID-19?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a family of RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses. They are called coronaviruses because the virus particle exhibits a characteristic ‘corona’ (crown) of spike proteins around its lipid envelope. CoV infections are common in animals and humans. Some strains of CoV are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted between animals and humans, but many strains are not zoonotic.
In humans, CoV can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (caused by MERS-CoV), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (caused by SARS-CoV). Detailed investigations have demonstrated that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civets to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans.
In December 2019, human cases of pneumonia of unknown origin were reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China (People’s Rep. of). A new CoV was identified as the causative agent by Chinese Authorities. Since then, human cases, most of them with travel history to the Wuhan or Hubei region, have been reported by several provinces in China (People’s Rep. of) and by a number of other countries. For up to date information please consult the WHO website.
The CoV which causes COVID-19 has been designated as SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV); this is the scientific name. The virus may also be referred to as “the COVID-19 virus” or “the virus responsible for COVID-19”. COVID19 refers to the disease caused by the virus.
Can Pet Spreads The Virus?
According to a report from the World Organisation for Animal Health. There’s no evidence that dogs can spread the disease or that the disease can cause an animal to fall ill, the organization says, though further studies may bring new findings.
The organization advises pet owners infected or susceptible of being infected with the coronavirus to avoid close contact with their pets and have another member of the household care for the animals. If they must look after their pet, they should maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask if possible.
Are Animals Responsible For COVID-19 In People?
The predominant route of transmission of COVID-19 appears to be from human to human.
Current evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus has an animal source. Ongoing investigations are important for identifying the animal source (including species involved) and establishing the potential role of an animal reservoir in this disease. Yet, to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify that source or to explain the route of transmission from an animal source to humans.
Genetic sequence data reveals that the COVID-19 virus is a close relative of other CoV found circulating in Rhinolophus bat (Horseshoe Bat) populations. There is the possibility that transmission to humans involved an intermediate host.
Priorities for research to investigate the animal source were discussed by the OIE informal advisory group on COVID-19 and were presented at the WHO Global Research and Innovation Forum (11-12 February 2020) by the President of the OIE Wildlife Working Group. The outcomes from the discussion of the OIE informal advisory group on COVID-19 can be found at the link.
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.
Should We Quarantine Our Pets Too?
Yes, just like humans, some might be quarantined at a hospital. Or a shelter. Or even doggy daycare. 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.
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.