What you need to know about your furry and feathered friends

Coronavirus and pets

Don’t panic about your pets! The W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) has announced that domestic animals cannot carry the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Dogs that may have been quarantined as a precaution can now come out of quarantine.

Corona viruses have been found in domestic animals for many years. It is important to distinguish these animal corona viruses from human pathogens. In the animal kingdom, there is not just “a corona virus”, but many different strains.

As a rule, these are not transferable from one species to another, or to humans.

For safety purposes, the usual hygiene rules for handling pets are always applicable. In particular, when immunocompromised or sick people handle animals, adequate hand hygiene measures should be taken, and “mouth to muzzle” contact avoided. It always makes sense to wash your hands after stroking your pets.

FAQ: Coronavirus and pets

Many pet owners have found recent headlines about a dog testing positive for SARS-COV-2 unsettling, and have asked: “Is the virus also dangerous for pets?” Here are the most important questions (and their answers) on the subject of “Coronavirus and pets”.

Can SARS-COV-2 be transferred from pets?

To date, there is no proof of this. In late February, a dog in Hong Kong tested “weakly positive” for SARS-COV-2. But there is evidence to suggest that he was not infected with the novel Coronavirus.

Firstly: The dog lived in a household with a person affected by COVID-19. The case of the affected dog may be purely coincidental, i.e.: The virus can get into a dog’s fur, without causing infection. The virus may have been spread by close contact such as the owner hugging or stroking the dog, or through saliva or nasal secretions. The “weakly positive” result may also have been caused by environmental factors. Dogs can pick up viruses through contact with virus-containing secretions in their noses, or in their fur.

Secondly: Virologists say that it is very unlikely that in such a short time, a virus will spread amongst humans and then to another species, such as in the case of the dog. For this to happen, the virus would have to be able to multiply in the dog after contact and infection. To date, there is no evidence of this being the case.

Is the possibility of the transmission of corona viruses from animals to humans ruled out?

Viruses are able to change their surface structure, which is important for an infection, more or less rapidly. Therefore, infection from humans to animals or from animals to humans cannot be completely ruled out. At the moment, it is not exactly clear how the SARS-COV-2 was transmitted. There is no evidence that dogs or cats can become infected with the novel Coronavirus.

Transmission by an animal as an intermediate carrier is possible. For example, when two people stroke the same animal and then touch their own mucous membranes. In this rare case, the animal would theoretically be equated to a door handle which was touched by two people in succession.

When can we expect to know more about pets and SARS-COV-2?

One-off cases only stir up unnecessary worries, but are currently not uncommon. Due to global and headline-based reporting, there is a race for the latest information. As a result, hasty or unreliable messages about SARS-COV-2 and the virus-induced disease COVID-19 are delivered to the population. These even come from scientific sources. This is demonstrated by scientific articles that were withdrawn by the authors shortly after their publication. It remains to be seen what new findings will emerge, and when.

Do corona viruses also occur in pets?

Yes – they have done for several years, and without being dangerous to humans. The family of corona viruses is large. Corona viruses are much more common in veterinary medicine than in human medicine. They can infect several species of domestic and farm animals. It is important to distinguish these animal corona viruses from human pathogens. In the animal kingdom, there is not just “a corona virus”, but many different strains. These virus strains concentrate on an individual species, and are not usually transferable from one species to another. They are species-specific. A well-known example is FIP, which is feared by cat owners, and can be triggered by corona viruses. Cats cannot infect people with it. Dogs suffering from corona viruses – and the resulting bowel conditions – pose no danger to humans.

What should be considered in terms of the novel Coronavirus in pets?

Regardless of the SARS-COV-2 situation, the usual hygiene rules for handling pets continue to apply. In particular, when immunocompromised or sick people handle animals, adequate hand hygiene measures should be taken, and “mouth to muzzle” contact avoided. Since there is no evidence of the novel Coronavirus in pets, there are no new stringent hygiene regulations. It always makes sense to wash your hands after being in close contact with your pets.

Does the novel Coronavirus pose a danger to my dog or cat?

As things stand: no. There are no known cases of pets being infected with SARS-COV-2. A dog currently in quarantine in Hong Kong could have superficially ingested the virus by coming into contact with its sick owner. Also, diseases caused by other corona viruses are not transferable from human to animal and vice versa.