“Scared” is the only term to describe pet owners when they learned a 17-year-old Pomeranian in China tested “weakly” positive for the coronavirus during quarantine, and then died three days after returning home. (A second dog that lived in the same house consistently tested negative during quarantine.)
Then Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department announced another dog in quarantine, a German shepherd, had tested positive for COVID-19 (a mixed breed dog from the same home tested negative, and neither it nor the German shepherd have shown any signs of disease).
Pet owners became alarmed,, and are reaching out to their veterinarians to ask about the risks of COVID-19 as it relates to their pets. Among their questions: Can my pet get COVID-19 from people? Can my children get COVID-19 from my pet? Is it safe to hug my pet?
There is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of COVID-19 for humans or that this virus can cause the disease in dogs, veterinary professionals and infectious disease experts say.
Infectious disease experts, as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) indicate there is no evidence to suggest that pet dogs or cats — or any other pets — can be a source of infection with the virus SARS-CoV-2, including spreading COVID-19 to people.
“There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19” to humans, said WHO in an announcement. “COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.”
WHO continues to monitor the latest research on this and other COVID-19 topics and will update as new findings are available.
“The Pomeranian was never sick with the illness, and it was released from quarantine and then died,” stresses Dr. Dana Varble, Chief Veterinary Officer for the NAVC. “We don’t know what the dog died of because they didn’t do an autopsy, but this dog was extremely elderly and had multiple underlying health conditions,” Varble said.
To put this into perspective, Varble points to a recent test of thousands of household pets for COVID-19 by IDEXX Laboratories, Inc.
“They tested thousands of dogs and cats for this virus and found no positive results in pets, so we believe that the likelihood of dogs or cats contracting this is extremely low at this time,” Varble said.
IDEXX evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens during validation of a new veterinary test system for the COVID-19 virus. The specimens used for test development and validation were obtained from specimens submitted to IDEXX Reference Laboratories for PCR testing.
“Should leading health authorities determine it is clinically relevant to test pets for the COVID-19 virus, IDEXX will be ready to make the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR™ Test available,” said Jay Mazelsky, President and Chief Executive Officer of IDEXX Laboratories. “Pets are important members of our family, and we want to keep them healthy and safe. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 and pet health across our global IDEXX Reference Laboratories network as this situation evolves.”
Antech Diagnostics, part of Mars Petcare, also announced that its data upholds the conclusions of leading human and animal health organizations. Antech’s active surveillance program is intended to detect any possible emergence of the virus among companion animals.
“We are actively monitoring the situation and communicating regularly with our academic partners, veterinary customers, veterinary health organizations and government agencies internationally,” said Jennifer Ogeer, BSc., DVM, MSc., MBA, MA, VP Medical Affairs & Commercial Marketing. “We’re grateful to be aligned in a shared mission to protect the health and safety of both companion animals and humans, and stand ready to share data from our surveillance program to dispel misinformation, protect public health and support our veterinary customers as needs evolve.”
What You Can Do
First and foremost, educate pet owners, dispel myths and inaccurate information, and answer any questions they have in a calm, reassuring manner.
“There is still much we don’t know about 2019-CoV and, while the priority is to bring the outbreak of the infection caused to people under control as soon as possible, we are concerned for animal welfare with reports of animals being abandoned or killed because their owners fear that they might carry the virus,” said Shane Ryan, president of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). “We urge our members to ensure owners follow our guidance to keep themselves and their companion animals safe.”
Share WSAVA’s recommendations with your clients:
• Keep your companion animals with you if you are self-quarantined
• Maintain good hygiene practices, including washing hands when interacting with your pets
• Arrange care for any animals left at home if family or friends are hospitalized
• Contact your veterinarian immediately if they have questions or concerns