The news is saturated with stories about the Novel Coronavirus, COVID – 19, and there have been stories circulating across social media about at least one dog testing positive for the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is no reason to think that any animals in the United States might be a source of infection for the coronavirus, or that any animals have become sick with COVID-19.
How come a dog in Hong Kong tested positive for coronavirus?
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong reported that a sample from a dog’s nasal and oral cavities tested for a “weak positive” of the coronavirus. The dog, which showed no signs of illness, was placed in quarantine, out of an abundance of caution, where it will stay until it no longer tests positive.
According to officials, the dog tested positive most likely because it picked up the virus from a contaminated surface or object. Currently, the experts don’t know how long the virus lingers in the environment after being spread to surfaces from an infected person.
According to AFCD and World Health Organization (WHO) it is believed that this particular dog is the first dog in the world to test positive for the virus and both agree that there is no evidence that dogs or cats can be infected.
"Present evidence suggests that dogs are no more of 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 she shared with CNN.
According to the WHO myth busters page on their website:
Can pets at home spread the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV)?
“At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.”
Should I be concerned about pets or other animals and Covid-19?
Directly from the CDC:
“While this virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person-to-person in China. 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. At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19. However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after being around animals. For more information on the many benefits of pet ownership, as well as staying safe and healthy around animals including pets, livestock, and wildlife, visit CDC’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People website.”
Since animals can pick up and carry this virus and other diseases on their body, limiting contact and good hygiene can help prevent the spread of disease. The official advice from the CDC is:
“You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.”
What kind of Coronavirus do dogs and cats get?
According to Jane Gray the SPCA's chief veterinary surgeon in Hong Kong, a different strain of coronavirus that can affect pets has been around for years is not a respiratory illness. According to Ernest Ward, DVM, the coronavirus that dogs get, and can be vaccinated against, is an intestinal disease described as:
“A highly infectious intestinal infection in dogs, especially puppies. Coronavirus is usually short-lived, but may cause considerable abdominal discomfort for a few days in infected dogs. The cause is a virus of the Coronaviridae family. The virus gets its name from the fact that when viewed from above under an electron microscope, the virus has a ring of projections that appear like a coronet, or a small crown made of ornaments fixed on a metal ring. Different coronaviruses cause infections in many species of animals and birds. Canine coronavirus does not affect people.”
According to Cornell University, the coronavirus that cats get, and they can have a fecal test for, is:
“Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) is a common viral infection in cats. It generally causes asymptomatic infection, but can cause mild diarrhea. As yet poorly understood changes in the virus can give rise to mutants that lead to the development of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Most cats infected with a FCoV eliminate virus following infection, but some cats may develop a persistent infection. These cats are generally asymptomatic, can shed large amounts of virus in feces, and serve as a continual source of infection for other cats in the environment.”
How to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to pets and people
According to the CDC, the primary way the disease is spread is through person-to-person contact, either when people are close together, or from respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs and sneezes.
If someone shows signs of illness, the first thing they should do is contact their health care provider. According to the CDC:
“Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19.”
For the rest of us, the most important thing you can do is protect yourself from people who show signs of illness and wash your hands. For your pets, you want to keep them away from people, places or objects that may be infected with the coronavirus and other illnesses so they don’t potentially pick up and spread the virus or bacteria into your environment.
If you find out that you or your pet has been in an area where there is a report of a person contracting the coronavirus, the best thing to do is not to panic. If you’re worried about your pet, give them a bath or wipe their paws with disinfecting wipes. There are thousands of dogs who have been in lock down and/or quarantined in communities in China that do not spread or contract the coronavirus.
Don’t panic, love your pet
According to history, the biggest problem that dogs and cats are at risk for during this outbreak is fear spreading in our communities. In the past, such as during the SARS outbreak, people abandoned and some even killed their pets over the fear of the illness.
Covid-19 is not a zoonotic disease, a disease spread between animals and people, and there is no need to fear.