By Dr. Brian Laing
In tough times like these, I’m reminded how fortunate we are to have our four- footed companions comfort us and lift our spirits.
With that in mind I thought I’d address the following questions:
Can I get Covid19 from my pet? No.
Currently, no evidence exists that dogs and cats, even if infected, can transmit the Covid19 virus to humans. To date, all transmission has been human-to- human, after the initial jump from bats (most likely) to humans.
Can pets transmit the COVID-19 virus via their haircoats?
If the pet’s coat were to be contaminated with the virus by being coughed upon of touched by an infected human, even if the dog isn’t infected it can still act as a fomite, just like a doorknob or any other hand contact surface.
How long it could persist on a pet’s coat is not known but it is likely to persist for hours if not more. Because fur is a porous surface it is not as good as transmitting the virus as a smooth surface such as a countertop.
What about the dog in Hong Kong Infected with Covid19?
Preliminary evidence suggests that one dog in Hong Kong that lived with a person infected with the virus tested positive multiple times over multiple days. This suggests that the dog was in fact infected, rather than just contaminated with the virus. It is important to note that Covid19 was not isolated from the dog in Hong Kong – only RNA was identified via RT-PCR.
What does all this mean in plain English?
Basically, the dog has a weak positive test but no virus was isolated from the dog which means that the dog was exposed but the virus did not take hold in the dog and he was not spreading the virus.
In mid-March, 2020, the World Health Organization stated that there is no evidence at present that dogs and cats can be infected with Covid19, develop the disease, or spread the disease.
What about cats?
Cats are still a bigger concern in this scenario because they were able to be infected by the SARS virus and could infect other cats with SARS, and Covid19 is similar enough that it’s reasonable to be concerned that it could infect cats as well. However there has been little testing (in fact none that we know of) of cats so far, though undoubtedly many cats have been exposed through their infected owners. Time will tell based on field study (hopefully) and probably experimental work.
Transmission primarily occurs when there is contact with an infected person’s bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze. Transmission via touching a contaminated surface or object (i.e., a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly eyes is also possible, but appears to be a secondary route. Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g., paper money, pet fur) because porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch.
Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. Have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.