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Infectious Diseases

Updated 13 March 2020

A dog tested positive for coronavirus – but it's not a threat to your pets, and it can't be passed on to you

You may not only be worried about your own health, but also about that of your furry friend, especially after a dog tested positive for coronavirus last week.

After Hong Kong’s Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that samples from a dog’s nasal and oral cavities tested “weak positive” for Covid-19 virus, people started to ask whether their pets would be affected by the worldwide outbreak.

Although we know that the new coronavirus seems to have its origin in animals sold at a market in Wuhan, China, experts say that there is currently no evidence that the virus is a direct threat to dogs and cats, or that it could be spread by them.

For your reference, here are some quick questions and answers based on findings from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

1. Should pet owners take any special precautions?

Unless you are in a high-risk area (check the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ [NICD's] guide), or you yourself have contracted the Covid-19 virus, there are no official recommendations related to the virus.

However, if you do live in an area where the virus is spreading, it’s recommended that you wash your hands before handling your pet. 

Washing your hands and avoiding touching your face after handling your pet is recommended as a basic health precaution anyway, as salmonella and E.coli can spread from pets and their faeces to owners.

2. If pets can’t get it, why did the dog in Hong Kong test positive?

The AFCD and the WHO both came to the conclusion that even though the dog tested weakly positive, there is no evidence that the dog is actually infected.

In the same way that the new coronavirus can live on a surface such as a table top, it can present on the surface of a cat or dog without the animal getting ill.

"Present evidence suggests that dogs are no more a risk of spreading (coronavirus) than inanimate objects such as door handles," wrote Sheila McClelland, the founder of Hong Kong-based Lifelong Animal Protection Charity (LAP), in a letter to the Hong Kong authorities, which was quoted on CNN.

3. Can your pet make you ill?

In 2003 during the SARS outbreak, people also feared that the virus could spread to pets, specifically domestic cats. However, the evidence was extremely slim.

In the case of the virus that spreads, it is agreed that the most common method of spreading remains human-to-human contact in close proximity, not pets.

4. What if my pets do get sick?

In South Africa, where there are still no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, it is highly unlikely that your pet will get sick from Covid-19. Consult your veterinarian to rule out any other conditions.

5. Love your pets, but don't stress about them

According to Furry Angels Haven, an animal rescue group in Wuhan, there has been an increase in abandoned animals since the outbreak.

However, it is not fair to abandon pets in a state of panic and pets can actually help counteract your fears, especially when confined to your house.

In fact, research has proven that a pet can significantly lower your risk of early death and that people showed better recovery from major illness such as a heart attack or stroke when they had a fluffy companion by their side.

Image credit: iStock