Can animals catch Covid-19?
The chance of your dog catching Covid-19 strain is very slim, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Professor James Wood, head of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Despite millions of people having had Covid-19, the numbers of pets found to be ill or infected is still tiny.
‘Put simply, our pet dogs and cats can catch Covid-19 from us, when they are living with us, but only do on very rare occasions.’
Scientists say pets don’t appear to get very sick with Covid-19, and various pet organisations and charities say there is no need to be worried.
The first dog in the world to catch coronavirus died after it was declared disease-free and returned home to its owner in Hong Kong.
The owner of the 17-year-old Pomeranian, whose also had Covid-19, did not allow the dog to be autopsied, so the exact cause of death remains unknown.
How do animals get infected?
Animals are likely to catch the virus the same way a human would — when respiratory droplets enter the pets’ nose or mouth.
Professor Wood said: ‘Cats may become infected by the high doses of virus transmitted by their infected owners in some settings.
‘The relative size of a cat versus a human means that there is far less exhaled breath from one cat in a house, compared to the exhaled breath volumes from a human patient.
‘Further, the grooming behaviour of cats means that they are more likely to catch infection from an owner than vice versa.’
When pets have been reported to have the virus, they have signs that indicate a respiratory illness.
Downing Street said the first cat infected in England had symptoms of a respiratory infection with a nasal discharge and some shortness of breath.
Scientists have shown that cats, ferrets and hamsters are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. But ducks, chickens and pigs don’t appear to be.
Professor William Weir, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said ‘the significance of SARS-CoV-2 as a feline or canine pathogen is unknown’.
He added that there have been no reports of cats passing the virus to dogs or vice versa.
Can humans catch Covid-19 from animals?
There is no evidence that a human could catch the coronavirus from an animal in the same way as it would from another human.
Covid-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at Nottingham University, said pets produce ‘very low levels of the virus’ compared to humans.
Professor James Wood, head of department of veterinary medicine, University of Cambridge, added that pets would exhale far less breath — which may have virus droplets inside — than humans.
In any case where a pet has tested positive for the virus, the owner reportedly had it first.
The WHO says: ‘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.’
Professor Weir said: ‘At present, there is no evidence that cats, dogs or other domestic animals play any role in the epidemiology of human infections with SARS-CoV-2.’
An official report by the UK’s top vet said household pets may carry the virus on their fur, which risks spreading the disease from person to person.
It said: ‘Close contact such as cuddling, grooming, feeding and allowing animals to share food could all allow the transfer of virus.’
The document, prepared by the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, was considered on April 30 at a meeting of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
The report warned that the virus could survive on pet fur, meaning ‘there is a plausible pathway that the animal may act as a fomite [infectious object] for at least a few hours and transfer virus to others in the household.’
It added that pet owners who have symptoms to prevent their dog or cat from coming into contact with ‘susceptible humans’.
What precautions should I take when dealing with animals?
If you are sick with Covid-19, it is recommended you restrict contact with your dog and see if other people can look after them.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says: ‘It is still recommended that people sick with Covid-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.’
How to you stay safe around your pet:
- Wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies
- Practise good pet hygiene and clean up after pets properly
- Take pets to the vet regularly and talk to them if you have questions about your pet’s health