No evidence that pets can give coronavirus to humans, vets say

The Malta Veterinary Association says that there is no evidence yet that animals can transmit Covid-19 to humans • Pet owners who have coronavirus are advised to stay away from their pets and keep their animals inside

People who contract Covid-19 are advised to stay away from their pets and keep them inside
People who contract Covid-19 are advised to stay away from their pets and keep them inside

There is currently no evidence that animals, including pets or livestock, can transmit the coronavirus to humans but pet owners who have the virus are urged to stay away from their animals, the Malta Veterinary Association said.

The association said that according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) the main route of transmission of Covid-19 is from human to human.

Concern has been raised on whether pets can transmit the virus to humans but the principle risk so far is that the pet, just like any other object, may be carrying the virus on its coat for which proper hand hygiene is advised for whoever handles the animal.

As of today, there have been three cases of animals testing positive for Covid-19 by swab tests, the association said. The first two cases were two dogs in Hong Kong, these dogs never showed any clinical signs of the virus.

The third case was of a cat in Belgium belonging to a person infected with the virus, the feline did show clinical signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing and shallow breathing. The cat’s swabs were taken by the owner and so the positive result could have been contaminated. The infection of the cat has not been confirmed.  

The association said that there have also been reports of a tiger kept in a zoo in New York which tested positive for Covid-19. Despite the tiger and others at the zoo showing clinical signs, it had not been confirmed by the OIE.

“Studies are still taking place in order to better understand how animals can become infected by Covid-19. Laboratories have tested many cats and dogs in the United States and South Korea and all have tested negative so far with the exception of the cases mentioned above. So far, animals have tested positive only when they have been in close contact with infected humans. For this reason, if you are feeling unwell, please avoid close contact with your pets and other animals.”

Practice good hand hygiene

The MVA said it was important to practice good hand hygiene when handling pets and their food, as well as highlighting that animals belonging to people in quarantine or infected with Covid-19 should be kept indoors, as even if the animals are not infected, the virus itself might be present on the animals’ coat.

“The main route of transmission remains human to human. There is no evidence that pets or livestock transmit the virus to people. However, it is possible for animals to act as fomites (objects or materials that can carry infection on their surface like a mobile phone or a door handle) so contact with people who do not live in the same household should also be avoided,” the association said.

The association assured that currently there is no reason to believe that animals were involved in the spread of the disease between humans, however, it was important to practice good hand hygiene when dealing with other people’s pets.

The MVA said that currently there were no commercial tests available for animals and tests being conducted in Malta were reserved for human testing. Additionally, since the main mode of transmission of the virus is from human to human, leading health authorities around the world do not recommend testing pets for Covid-19.

“If your pet shows any respiratory signs of illness then contact your veterinarian, explain your concerns and they will be able to guide you or test for more common pet respiratory infections. Always inform your veterinarian if you are in quarantine, feeling unwell or have tested positive for Covid-19 before the pet is taken to a clinic, in order to limit the spread of the virus. This is a developing situation and studies are continually taking place to understand the infection and the impact it has on us and our animals,” the vet association said.

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