Coronaviruses, dogs and cats. What is the risk?

To date, there are no recorded instances of dogs or cats transmitting infection to people.

Background

Coronaviruses generally confine their activities to one species, but rarely gain the ability to jump across the species barrier and infect another species. The current coronavirus pandemic in people is caused by a strain of coronavirus known as SARS-COV-2 that is thought to have originated from bats and other, as yet unidentified, species.

Current knowledge

Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) has very rarely been identified on cats and dogs. In most instances, it is most likely that the virus has been transmitted from person to animal and is lying on the fur of the pet, just as it might lie on any surface.

One tiger and to date, one cat have shown signs of illness and have been identified as carrying SARS-COV-2. It is unknown whether this virus was responsible for illness in either case.

A recent study1, which has yet to be critically reviewed or published, showed that cats and ferrets could be infected with SARS-COV-2 under experimental conditions and that cats could pass this virus on to other cats. It appeared to be very difficult to successfully infect dogs under experimental conditions.

One of the largest manufacturers of medical diagnostic equipment in the world (IDEXX laboratories) tested thousands of samples from dogs and cats for SARS-COV-2 without detecting a single positive sample.

Conclusions and guidelines

Although cats might be able to contract infection under experimental conditions, this has not yet been proven to occur under natural conditions. Transmission of infection from dogs or cats to people has not been demonstrated.

The main, and possibly the only, way in which cats or dogs could potentially spread SARS-COV-2 is if their fur becomes contaminated by the virus from an infected person, and someone else becomes infected by stroking the dog or cat. This is referred to as ‘fomite transmission’.

  • This mode of transmission can be prevented by exercising good hand hygiene.
  • The British Veterinary Association have released a statement which you can view here.
  • Cats should only be kept indoors if people in the household are infected or otherwise self-isolating, and only if being kept indoors is not detrimental to the health or well-being of the cat. It is, for reasons mentioned above and for general sanitary purposes, important to exercise good hand hygiene when handling dogs or cats.

International Cat Care and World Small Animal Veterinary Association have also released the following statement:

• If you have symptoms of COVID-19 you should avoid direct interaction with pets if possible, and wear gloves and a mask, and wash hands after handling any pet.
• For households with no symptoms of COVID-19, take normal sensible hygiene precautions and wash hands after handling pets.
• For owners more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health issues the same advice applies, take sensible hygiene precautions when handling cats with outdoor access and avoid close contact.
• There is no current evidence of transmission from pet fur to humans, hence no current advice to clean pets before handling them. In addition, such cleaning could be very stressful for the pet

References
  1. Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and different domestic animals to SARS-coronavirus-2
    Jianzhong Shi1*, Zhiyuan Wen1*, Gongxun Zhong1*, Huanliang Yang1*, Chong Wang1*, Renqiang Liu1, Xijun He2, Lei Shuai1, Ziruo Sun1, Yubo Zhao1, Libin Liang1, Pengfei Cui1, Jinliang Wang1, Xianfeng Zhang2, Yuntao Guan2, Hualan Chen1†, and Zhigao Bu1,2†
    1. State Key Laboratory of Veterinary Biotechnology, Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Harbin 150001, People’s Republic of China.
    2. National High Containment Laboratory for Animal Diseases Control and Prevention, Harbin 150069, People’s Republic of China.

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