While it doesn’t seem like pets play a role in transmitting COVID-19 between people, a dog in Hong Kong was reported to test positive for it earlier this month. Experts are still puzzling over exactly what this means.
The dog in Hong Kong was quarantined and is currently testing negative, but its previous positive tests are also consistent with the idea that the dog may have had a “low-level” infection. (The dog never showed any symptoms.)
The University of Illinois’s veterinary college has an article for dog owners which emphasises that even with this new information, “There is still no indication that pets can shed the virus or get sick from the virus at this time.”
(By the way, if you’ve heard of canine coronavirus, that’s a totally different virus. There are human and animal coronaviruses that cause colds, but they’re not close relatives of the virus that causes COVID-19.)
What about animals besides dogs? So far, we still don’t know for sure if this coronavirus can infect animals other than humans. An early analysis of its RNA (genetic material similar to DNA) found similarities to coronaviruses that infect bats. But the bat virus may just be a distant relative; the virus as we know it may have stopped in other species along the way. If there is an “animal reservoir” of the virus, as epidemiologists call it, we haven’t figured out what it is.
What does this mean for pet owners?
Unless more information comes in, there’s probably no need to change anything about how you interact with your pets when you’re healthy. The U.S. CDC states:
There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus. To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19.
That said, if you are sick, you should still avoid contact with your pets if possible. As Scott Weese, a veterinarian who studies human-animal disease transmission, told the Washington Post: “If I’m self-isolating at home and living in my basement, away from other people, but my cat comes to sit on my lap, and I cough on it and pet it, and it runs upstairs and rubs against my kid and goes outside, then we’ve maybe got a little bit of a problem.”
The World Health Organisation agrees with the CDC that there is no evidence pets are a danger to us or vice versa, but also emphasises that there’s a lot we don’t know:
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. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly.
WHO continues to monitor the latest research on this and other COVID-19 topics and will update as new findings are available.