Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect new information confirming that a dog in Hong Kong has been infected with coronavirus. Initially, experts believed the virus was likely to be present only on the surface of the animal.
They’re your furry best friend and a fixture of your home – but could your beloved cat or dog give you coronavirus?
Last Friday, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said that samples from a dog’s nasal and oral cavities had tested “weak positive” for novel coronavirus.
Initially, experts believed the virus was likely to be present only on the surface of the animal.
But this week authorities confirmed that the dog – which has been in quarantine – had repeatedly tested weak positive, indicating a low-level infection with the virus.
Experts, including those from the World Organization for Animal Health, unanimously agreed that it was likely a case of human-to-animal transmission.
But there’s no need for pet owners to panic yet.
“There is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they can become sick,” the AFCD spokesman said.
To be safe, the AFCD recommends that pet owners wash their hands after being around their animals, and avoid kissing them.
The department also “strongly advises” that pets of people infected with coronavirus should be quarantined.
Both Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the World Organization for Animal Health reiterated that there is no evidence of pets becoming sick with Covid-19, even when infected.
“Members of the public are advised to differentiate that ‘being infected’ does not equal being infectious and capable of spreading the Covid-19 virus,” Hong Kong SPCA said in a statement.
Can pets give you coronavirus?
There were similar fears over coronavirus spreading to pets during the SARS outbreak in 2003, when over 280 people died in Hong Kong. Experts believe that both SARS and Covid-19 likely originated in bats.
Dogs and cats do get coronaviruses – but they are usually not the same viruses associated with this outbreak, said Jane Gray, Hong Kong SPCA’s chief veterinary surgeon. The strains dogs and cats typically get don’t cause respiratory problems.
Back in 2003, scientists said the chance of getting SARS – which is also a type of coronavirus – from your cat was extremely remote.