Vet experts on whether animals can catch coronavirus – and if they can spread it to humans

11 April 2020 3 By revilosk8
Vet experts on whether animals can catch coronavirus – and if they can spread it to humans

Here’s what the BVA, PSDA and OIE all have to say about concerns over animals catching and spreading Covid-19

Veterinary experts have issued advice on how to prevent the spread of Covid-19 during the coronavirus lockdown 

There has been a lot more confusion amongst the public over the situation in relation to pets – particularly cats and dogs.

Health officials had allowed the public to assume that animals couldn’t catch the virus, although recent studies suggest otherwise with reports of cats in particular and even a tiger at a New York zoo contracting Covid-19.

Although there are no examples of humans picking up the virus from their pets, some owners are unsure of what the scientific evidence really shows.

North Wales Live has analysed information provided by leading pet charities and organisations to help you understand the situation at the moment – though as new studies are conducted, the information may change.

Can pets catch Covid-19?

Veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) acknowledges that there have been a “very small number of pets” across the world that tested positive for Covid-19.

This has included reports of a cat, who had experienced symptoms, testing positive for the virus in Belgium last month.

In a meeting on March 31, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) advisory group discussed the news and confirmed that the animal had been in “close contact” with its owner – who had already been diagnosed with Covid-19.

The OIE explained that the cat was showing “clinical signs,” such as diarrhoea, vomiting, coughing and superficial breathing.

Vomit and stool samples were collected and subsequently tested positive for the virus, known scientifically as SARS-CoV-2.

The OIE however notes that contamination of samples “cannot be ruled out” because they were taken from the environment – not directly from the animal – by the owner, who had already tested positive.

It explained: “Therefore, although infection of the cat is suspected, productive infection cannot be confirmed.”

It “highlighted that so far, positive findings in companion animals were ‘isolated cases’ associated with close contact” with humans positive for Covid-19.

The OIE also confirmed a tiger at a zoo in New York had tested positive.

A report issued by the organisation notes that one animal displayed “a dry cough and some wheezing,” with the tigers assumed to have developed the virus from an “asymptomatic zoo employee.”

Can they spread the virus?

The virus remains relatively unknown to scientists, though there is some initial evidence available.

The PDSA asserts that it is “most commonly passed from person to person,” notably through coughing and sneezing.

“There is evidence that the virus can live on surfaces for some time,” it adds, “which could include pet’s fur.”

Subsequently, if a pet is showing symptoms of the virus, it’s important for the owner to “minimise contact” as much as possible.

Industry officials, such as the British Veterinary Association (BVA), therefore assert that good personal hygiene should be followed within homes.

The OIE said: “Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact.”

A report in the Mirror quoted researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China who found cats are in fact “highly susceptible” to the transmission of Covid-19.

The research found that cats appear to be able to transmit the virus through respiratory droplets – though not to humans.

The PDSA however warns the public against taking the study, which has yet to be peer reviewed, as scientific evidence.

The veterinary charity explained that “there are concerns” over the methodology used within the study – and therefore “any findings are to be interpreted with caution.”

The PDSA added there was no current evidence that animals can transmit the virus to humans – a sentiment reiterated by the OIE and the BVA.

What should pet owners do if they have Covid-19?

It’s possibly that pet owners across the country either have coronavirus or suspect they do, so what do they do about their four-legged friends?

The BVA has issued advice for those in this situation, who may be wanting to reduce their exposure – just in case they do transmit the virus to their pet.

Its recommendations for infected owners and those self-isolating include:

  • Restricting contact with pets as a precaution
  • Keeping cats indoors if possible, unless they have a stress-related condition
  • Arranging for someone else to exercise dogs – but adhering to social distancing
  • Wash your hands before and after any interaction with pets

What should owners do if pets show symptoms?

As previously mentioned, there have been reports of some infected animals displaying symptoms of coronavirus.

This can include vomiting, breathing difficulties and anorexia – though it’s possible clinical signs may not be presented.

The BVA states that recent evidence suggests that dogs do not display symptoms, though cats sometimes do.

The association recommends pet owners to call their vet if symptoms do present – who will advise on the best course of action.

Similarly to advice on GP surgeries and A&E, it’s important not to just turn up at your local vet at the moment.

Can dog owners take them out for walks?

The PDSA is very clear that current government guidance allows one walk per day for each person – which the charity says can be used for dog walking etc.

Such activity however must adhere to lockdown rules, with social distancing to be maintained between people and animals.

This means that dogs, or any other pets, must be kept on a lead around others and in public places.

The PDSA also recommends that if two adults live in the same home with a pet, then they could in theory each walk the dog separately – ensuring that the dog gets two walks a day.