Last week, health authorities in Belgium said that a pet cat contracted the novel coronavirus after being contaminated by its owner, the AFP news agency reported.
Earlier, two dogs in Hong Kong had also tested positive for COVID-19, after the screening of 17 dogs and eight cats living in contact with people who had the virus.
In a statement, the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA said that while the dogs in Hong Kong had shown no symptoms, the cat had been suffering from transitory respiratory and digestive problems.
Can pets get infected by the novel coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a specific family of viruses. Apart from human beings, they can affect mammals including pigs, cattle, cats, dogs, martens, camels, hedgehogs and some birds. It is rare for coronaviruses that infect animals to infect people too.
Like other coronaviruses that have infected people, such as the SARS and MERS viruses, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is zoonotic, meaning it came from animals to humans. The exact source of the new virus, however, is unknown.
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There are some coronaviruses that infect cats and dogs, but do not infect humans. According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), so far, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19, and that further studies will be required to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.
The website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says, “While 2 dogs (Hong Kong) and 1 cat (Belgium) have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.”
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What precautions are recommended?
For those who have contracted COVID-19, both the CDC and AVMA caution against maintaining close contact with animals. For such persons, the CDC recommends avoiding any contact with pets including petting, snuggling, or sharing food.
For those who are not infected, the AVMA recommends interacting with pets as one normally would, including walking, feeding, and playing. As good hygiene, it recommends washing one’s hands before interacting with pets as well as after.
As per the AFP report, apart from washing hands, government authorities in Belgium have also recommended not letting animals lick one’s face. This is aimed to prevent transmitting the virus to the animal, and to prevent the animal from becoming a vector of the epidemic.
There is no evidence, either from the history of COVID-19 cases around the world or from the genetic evolution history of the virus itself, that there is any scope of pets (or even stray animals) contracting or transmitting the virus to humans.
Here’s what the World Health Organization says on this: “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.”
While the virus can be transmitted from humans to animals, “there is no reason to think that animals can be vectors of the epidemic in our society,” Dr. Emmanuel Andre, a Belgian health official, told AFP.
In Hong Kong, “the dogs showed no symptoms,” while in Belgium “the cat was suffering from transitory respiratory and digestive problems,” said the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA in a statement. “So far, there is no evidence that a domestic animal can transmit the virus to humans or other pets,” the public authority said.
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