On Thursday, February 27, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department of Hong Kong (AFCD) reported that samples taken on February 26 from a dog’s nose and mouth (a 17-year-old dwarf cat whose owner had been diagnosed with COVID-19). These samples were found to be “weakly positive” for SARS-CoV-2. A stool sample was negative.
SARS-CoV-2 is the strain that causes COVID-19. The PCR test used is sensitive, specific, and does not cross-react with other dog or cat coronaviruses. A “weakly positive” result suggests that a small amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA was present in the samples, but does not distinguish between RNA found from intact virus and RNA fragments.
PCR tests were repeated on February 28, 2, 3, 5, and March 10 with a persistent “weak positive” result.
In addition, so-called gene sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was taken from the dog, this study was completed on March 12. The results were very similar. A virus isolation test performed on March 12 was negative.
Experts from the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at City University of Hong Kong believe that the consistency and persistence of the results indicate that the virus is present in this particular case has possibly spread from the infected people to the dog. The tests were conducted by the laboratories of the AFCD and the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong. The latter is an accredited WHO reference laboratory for testing SARS-COV-2.
Two dogs were quarantined due to infected owners, and the above dog was the first. The second dog had negative results from tests for the virus. Neither dog showed signs of illness with COVID-19. Unfortunately, the dog who tested positive died on March 16. The dog was 17 years old and had ongoing health problems likely responsible for this dog’s death, not COVID-19.
The second dog has now been released from quarantine.
On March 19, the AFCD reported that a third dog, a German Shepherd dog that lived with an owner who tested positive for COVID-19, had also tested positive. Another mixed breed dog from the same residence was tested negative. Neither dog showed any signs of illness. Both dogs have been quarantined and are still monitored and tested.
To date, there have been no reports of pets or other animals that have become ill anywhere in the world, and there is no evidence that pets, including pets, can spread SARS-CoV-2. Because the situation is constantly evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of caution. The decision to test will be made in collaboration between local, state, and federal animal and public health officials.
The current expert understanding is that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person to person. This makes the recommendation against Testing of pets for SARS-CoV-2 supported, unless by official order. If dogs or cats show respiratory symptoms, testing for commonly occurring pathogens is advised.
There is an infection. And then?
While there are no reports of pets getting sick with COVID-19, it is recommended as a precaution that people with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. The advice currently is that when someone is sick, another member of the household takes care of walking, feeding and playing with the pet.
Who is (slightly) infected and has a service dog is recommended to wear a face mask and further advice is; do not share food, kiss or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal.
Although the animal itself cannot become ill, the virus could be transmitted through the animal’s fur, just as a doorknob, for example, could pose a risk of infection if it was touched by an infected COVID-19 patient.
If you want to prepare well, you can provide an emergency kit, with at least two weeks of food for the pet and the necessary medicines. Two weeks is a reasonable period of time for quarantine or self-isolation if contamination is suspected.
It is important to remember that to date no notifications have been from pets or other animals that have become ill with SARS-CoV-2, and there is currently no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19, to other animals or to humans.