A vet has debunked rumours on whether cats, dogs and even ferrets can get COVID-19 throughout the global pandemic. Here is everything pet owners need to know.
A vet has debunked rumours on whether cats, dogs and even ferrets can get COVID-19 throughout the global pandemic. Here is everything pet owners need to know.

Easy explainer: Can pets get the virus and pass it on?

Australians are being urged not to rehome their pets throughout the coronavirus pandemic out of fear of contracting the disease.

It is "highly unlikely" cats and dogs will be infected.

That is the message from Your Vet Online's Dr Leigh Davidson, following reports pets were being thrown from balconies in China and a preliminary study finding cats and ferrets were highly susceptible to contracting COVID-19.

The Chinese report was released by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute and not peer-reviewed prior to publishing.

"What this means is nobody has criticised the works, which is what usually happens, or ask them to prove their findings," Dr Davidson said.

"The animals were getting high doses of the virus and being infected by having it sprayed into their nose and onto their tonsils, which is not natural.

"While cats and ferrets have receptors which the virus can attach itself to, it is highly unlikely any household pet will get COVID-19".

Dr Davidson debunked the following myths - and questions - pet owners had throughout the COVID-19 pandemic below.

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS AND COVID-19?

Coronavirus is the name given to a large number of viruses that may cause illness in humans and animals including dogs.

It's important to differentiate what coronavirus we are talking about as not all of them are infectious to humans and most are specific to the host species.

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus that has the formal name of SARS-CoV-2.

The coronaviruses that can affect dogs and cats thankfully are unrelated to COVID-19.

When you hear people or the media discuss coronavirus in dogs, they will be talking about Canine Viral Diarrhoea. This is a virus caused by canine coronavirus (CCoV).

Canine Coronavirus only affects dogs and is not transmittable to other pets or to humans.

Coronavirus in cats is known as Feline Coronavirus (FCoV), this can cause mild gastrointestinal symptoms, however, mutations lead to the development of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), a disease that often kills. We need to remember that the FIP form of FCoV is distinct from the enteric form (gastrointestinal form) of FCoV that occurs in most cats.

 

HOW IS COVID-19 SPREAD?

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that is spread from person to person.

Coronavirus transmission between people occurs via respiratory droplets that carry the virus in the air when a person coughs or sneezes.

When these droplets land or come into contact with another person's mouth or nose the virus can then enter the bloodstream of that person.

People can become infected by fomite transmission. This occurs when someone touches an object that a contaminated person has sneezed or coughed on, such as door handles, bathroom taps, public transport handles.

 

CAN MY DOG OR CAT GET COVID-19?

There is no evidence to suggest your pet can contract COVID-19.

There have been less than a handful of cases of pets testing positive - two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium.

However, the two dogs were owned by people who tested positive and they were smaller dogs, meaning they were most likely held, cuddled and - most likely - coughed on by these people.

The dogs did not show signs of being sick - they only tested positive for the virus and are what I consider a 'dead end'. COVID-19 is there but there is no evidence they can pass it on to humans.

The cat was also owned by somebody with COVID-19 and was tested via a stool sample, which its owner collected.

There is no way in knowing if this cat had actually been infected or if its sample was infected by the owner upon collection.

Thousands of pets have been tested for this virus as well, and having only a few testing positive does not provide any real, hard evidence.

 

Cats can’t get COVID-19. Picture: Getty
Cats can’t get COVID-19. Picture: Getty

 

CAN MY FERRET CONTRACT COVID?

Cats and ferrets have receptors the virus can attach itself to, so there is a slight chance but it is highly unlikely.

There is no evidence a ferret can get COVID-19 and there is no evidence it can transfer it to humans.

What we do know is ferrets were used as the animal models during SARS-COV-1 - the SARS virus from a few years ago - and now we have SARS-COV-2.

They have been used in the SARS-COV-2 as well, which can be seen in the latest Chinese report by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute.

Again, it was a typical experimental infection - so a really, really, really high viral dose and sprayed directly into the nose and injected into the trachea. So they've put it right in there. It is not natural at all.

WHEN GOING FOR A WALK, CAN MY DOG BE PAT BY OTHER PEOPLE?

You should treat your dog like your housemate.

If you are in quarantine or following the government's advice to stay inside - and away from other people - as much as possible, you should have your dog do the same.

It is okay for you to be around your dog and hang out with your dog but keep them close to you when you go for a walk to the park.

Don't let other people touch them ... you never know where their hands have been. It is the same as a doorknob or book.

 

Dogs cannot get the virus. Picture: Supplied
Dogs cannot get the virus. Picture: Supplied

 

IF MY PET WERE TO GET COVID-19, CAN I GET IT OFF THEM?

There is no evidence of cat, dog or ferret to human transmission.

It is highly unlikely pets will get COVID-19.

The only way you would most likely get it off them is if somebody, who was positive for COVID-19, touched the animal and bacteria was left on its coat.

We do know cats and ferrets have that receptor - dogs don't - which makes them predisposed to being able to catch it but we have not seen any cases.

It is highly unlikely an animal will catch it.

Because there is a slight chance of transfer to them, we've just got to practise good hygiene and treat our animals the way we treat other people.

If your animal is hanging out with you, not really going anywhere and not touching other people and your not either, you don't have a lot to worry about.

IF I SUSPECT MY PET IS SICK, WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Phone your regular vet - or a vet if you don't have one.

The Your Vet Online service can provide scripts for medications for Australian residents 24/7.

It's so important people still seek veterinary advice for their animals during this time, especially if you suspect they are sick.

The best part about it is you don't need to leave home. They can manage queries about illness, behaviour, lameness, toxicities, nutrition, second opinions and more.

If you do have to take your pet to the vet, phone the vet beforehand and let them know if you are positive for COVID-19.

They will work with you to pick up your pet while you're out the front of the clinic and in the car. They will most likely be in protective clothing so it's important you call ahead of your appointment.

IS THERE A COVID-19 VACCINE FOR DOGS OR OTHER ANIMALS?

Currently, there is no vaccine available for humans or animals that is protective against COVID-19.

WHAT PRECAUTIONS DO I NEED TO TAKE?

Like any viral respiratory disease, the best precautions you can take to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to people with this virus.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick and coughing, sneezing

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

• Stay home when you are sick

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe

• Use a hand sanitizer when out and about in public, especially after using public transport, toilets and before handling food.

 

Originally published as Easy explainer: Can pets get the virus and pass it on?