There is still no evidence pets can spread coronavirus. Picture: iStock
There is still no evidence pets can spread coronavirus. Picture: iStock

‘No evidence pets can spread virus’

The Australian Veterinary Association has urged pet owners to remain calm after reports of human-to-animal transmission of coronavirus, saying there is still no evidence they can spread the disease.

Hong Kong health officials last week confirmed a coronavirus patient's pet dog had repeatedly tested "weak positive" for the virus indicating a "low-level infection", saying it was "likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission".

"The current spread of coronavirus in humans is the result of human-to-human transmission," AVA President Dr Julia Crawford said in a statement today: "To date, there is no evidence that pets can spread the disease, or that they can become sick."

According to Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, samples from the pomeranian's mouth and nose contained low levels of SARS-CoV-2 - the scientific name for the virus which causes the disease referred to as COVID-19. The dog has not shown any symptoms.

"At this stage, there is no evidence that pets can play a role in the spread of this disease, and the primary source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission remains human-to-human contact," Dr Crawford said.

She cited the 2003 SARS outbreak where a small number of cats and dogs tested positive for the virus but did not demonstrate a role in transmitting the virus to other animals or humans.

The AVA advises pet owners who may become infected with SARS-CoV-2 to take precautionary steps to limit close contact with their pets and to practice appropriate hand hygiene before and after handling them.

"What owners can do is what we always recommend - please practice good hygiene, including washing your hands before and after handling your pets, as well as their food," said Dr Crawford.

Earlier this month, Chinese media reported pet dogs and cats were being thrown from apartment blocks after a rumour that the animals spread the coronavirus.

In Australia, one Sydney vet said there had been a spike in pet owners questioning whether the virus can be transmitted from their animals, with some asking if they should euthanise their pets.

World Animal Protection spokesman Pankaj KC last week urged people not to overreact: "The case of the dog in Hong Kong that tested 'weak positive' is an isolated case that so far, tells us very little. Especially given the dog is still showing no symptoms," he said in a statement.

"To put it into perspective, consider that there are around 750 million dogs living in the world, mostly alongside people, and of all these, just one single dog, has tested positive for coronavirus. We don't know enough at this stage about its possible transmission to other dogs, animals or even back to humans again."

Mr Pankaj said for a dog to contract coronavirus, the disease would have to mutate to enable it to latch on to dog cells and "right now, we don't know if this is the case".

"Pets are important for companionship and they shouldn't pay the price of our worries by being abandoned or cruelly mistreated in fear of them spreading the disease, especially not at this early stage," he said.

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