As if the increased number of COVID-19 cases around the world is not enough, Hong Kong announced a case of COVID-19 associated with a pet dog of a positive COVID-19 patient. We know the likely source of COVID-19 is zoonotic, and while during SARS there was some evidence cats could pick up the virus from the environment there was no infection.
According to infectious disease experts, some animals do have the same receptor for COVID-19 so it’s plausible they can have the disease but do not tend to be symptomatic and pets are unlikely to spread the virus further.
Initial information from Hong Kong indicated that the result could be caused by environmental contamination meaning that the dog picked up traces of the virus from their environment or person. However, on Wednesday a new statement was issued stating that the dog had been tested two more times (nasal and oral) which returned positive tests. After consulting medical and veterinary experts and the World Organization for Animal Health, Hong Kong officials concluded it is a case of human-to-animal transmission of the virus.
This does not mean we should panic. At this point, the testing conducted has been completed using PCR which is a very sensitive test which can detect minute amount of the COVID-19 viral RNA, however, PCR does not differentiate between viable virus that is capable of causing infection and inactivated virus. Infectious Disease Experts are stating that pet parents need not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets. We should, however, practice good hygiene practices such as washing your hands before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing them or them kissing you. Like other respiratory diseases we should also work to maintain a clean and hygienic household environment through cleaning and disinfection. The other advice is for people who are sick to restrict contacting animals and if their pets have any changes in their health seek advice from a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, in Wuhan, China, authorities are reportedly euthanizing animals that are found in homes of people infected with the virus. Hong Kong is being more level-headed and only recommending that animals of positive patients be quarantined, as the likelihood of pets getting sick or spreading the disease is very low.