If you’re working from home or trying to de-stress from coronavirus fears, your favourite furry friend may seem like a perfect companion. The good news is: despite reports that one dog tested “weak positive” for coronavirus, most experts agree you needn’t worry that your household dog or cat is at risk, either of spreading the virus or getting sick themselves.
Chinese officials cautioned people not to kiss their pets last week after a Pomeranian was quarantined in Hong Kong, Business Insider previously reported.
The dog, which belonged to a coronavirus patient, may have been carrying the virus in its mouth and nose, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD). It reportedly showed no signed of illness.
It may be that, in that case, the virus was passed from the human, who was confirmed to have COVID-19, to the dog, according to Dr. Will Sander, head of the joint veterinary-master’s in public health degree program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine.
But most cats and dogs likely aren’t at risk, and are unlikely to carry the virus around, infecting other humans, Sander explained.
“At this time, people should be minimally concerned about this coronavirus affecting their pets,” Sander told Insider via email. “The virus seems well adapted to spread between people and, therefore, unlikely to jump to dogs or cats.”
According to the World Health Organisation, there’s no reason to panic about pets as possible victims or carriers of the coronavirus, since there’s no evidence that they can be infected.
Many types of viruses, including the common cold, can’t be spread between household pets and people, as Insider previously reported – they have different cell receptors than humans, which may prevent some human-borne viruses from catching hold to cause an infection (although animals can have their own versions of those diseases).
It’s not yet clear whether this is the case for the novel coronavirus. In the case of the quarantined dog who tested positive, it may have been a case of environmental contamination, or even a problem with the test, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
But if your family is healthy, and your pets are at home and don’t often come into contact with other animals, they’re unlikely to be at risk, according to the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association. And if you do want to protect them, follow the same habits as you would for any other health concern, Sander advised.
“In much the same way that you can protect pets every day, best practices include making sure your pets are up to date on vaccinations, receiving at least annual veterinary check ups, and stay on preventatives for heartworm and fleas and ticks,” he said.
The Centres of Disease Control and Prevention noted that there have been no reports of animals being infected in the US.
Currently, the biggest concern for veterinarians and other animal health staff isn’t pet infections, it’s a lack of medical supplies caused by people panic-buying items like masks, gloves, and sanitizers, according to the AVMA website.
Wash your hands after touching animals, since their saliva can spread other germs even if coronavirus isn’t an issue
The most important factor in preventing the coronavirus continues to be simply washing your hands with soap and water, according to Sander and others.
“Washing your hands is the most important step you can take to limit spread period and that would be the biggest point I would constantly drive home,” Sander said.
And, regardless of coronavirus concerns, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after coming into contact with animals, particularly their saliva.
That’s because they can transmit bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, as well as certain types of parasites. Cats and dogs can also sometimes transmit bacteria which can cause serious infections in humans – in very rare cases, resulting in limb amputations or fatal illness.
These cases are extremely rare, however, and more likely to result from dog (or cat) bites than cuddles.
One precaution that does make sense, however, is stocking up on pet food, drinking water, supplies, and any medications along with anything else you’ll need during a quarantine.
“It is always a good idea to have an emergency go bag ready for yourself and your pets,” Sander said. “This go bag is a great item to have in place for your pets and would help if you had to be under quarantine.”