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Infectious Diseases

Updated 19 May 2020

Dogs may catch coronavirus from owners, but won't infect humans

A genetic analysis suggests that dogs testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 caught the virus from their owners, but won't spread it to other people.

Panic ensued earlier during the coronavirus pandemic when cases of dogs testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 were reported in Hong Kong.

Animal shelters and rescue organisations worldwide had to plead that owners don't abandon their dogs, as dogs cannot spread the virus to humans.

Now, researchers who studied the genomic link suspect that the infection was passed from owner to dog, according to Malik Peiris, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, and main author of the study published in the journal Nature.

There was no evidence that dogs could pass the infection to other dogs or people, but Peiris stated that they needed to consider every possibility. 

According to Arjan Stegeman, a veterinary epidemiologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, it’s unlikely that people with Covid-19 will infect their dogs, even though the studies show it might be possible.

Other scientists, however, did report to Nature that pets might be able to spread the virus among each other, and that this risk needed to be researched for management in future outbreaks.

Should owners diagnosed with Covid-19 worry about their pets?

While more research is needed to ascertain the extent of owners infecting their pets, the American Veterinary Medical Association urges people to take some precautions. They advise patients with Covid-19 who are recovering at home to wear a mask when caring for their pets and should avoid petting, hugging or kissing their animals while sick. They should also wash their hands before and after contact with their pets.

Animals and Covid-19

According to Jürgen Richt, a veterinary virologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, research is not only imperative to protect animals from getting sick, but to see exactly how animals such as working animals and livestock can potentially spread the virus in a community.

Rich also stated that more research is needed to see if pets experience any symptoms.

He is particularly worried that this may lead to more owners abandoning their animals in fear.

For now, it’s best to be informed, to understand that the probability of your dog or cat catching the virus is low, and simply to be aware of your animals’ health, and to contact your vet if are any changes in their health.

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