Throughout the pandemic there have been questions about how seriously coronavirus impacts those who contract it, an outcome dependent on age, underlying conditions, weight, and a host of other factors. But what about other mammals?As the World Health Organisation (WHO) says all the available evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic disease - one that passes from animals to humans - questions have also been raised about the potential impact of Covid-19 on domesticated pets as well as their human owners.
On 30 November, it was reported that Boris Johnson ’s dog Dilyn , who lives at 10 Downing Street with the PM and his fiancé Carrie Symonds , 32, was believed to have contracted the illness at the same time Johnson was admitted to intensive care.
Although the dog’s condition was never confirmed by testing, it does raise further questions about whether animals are able to experience coronavirus in the same way as humans.
What do we know about pets having Covid-19? And is there any evidence that it spreads between humans and pets?
Do pets get coronavirus?
According to official UK government guidance it is “rare” for an animal to contract coronavirus. And if it does happen “they [animals] tend to show only mild symptoms and recover within a few days,” it says.
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But it maintains there is “no evidence” that the virus passes between pets or that pets can transmit the virus to humans, even in the same household.
Are there examples of pets getting coronavirus?In February a pet dog in Hong Kong tested “weak positive” for coronavirus and was placed into quarantine. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in the country confirmed that repeated tests suggested the dog had a “low-level” of the virus.The dog, a Pomeranian, had not shown any symptoms for the illness but its owner was confirmed as being infected with Covid-19.
A month later, on 31 March, it was reported that a cat had contracted coronavirus in Belgium but health authorities in the country said it was an "isolated case" and not "the rule".On 27 July, the UK had its first confirmed case of coronavirus in a pet. The infected cat in the UK was tested for the virus at a laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, on 22 July.
Downing Street said the animal had shown symptoms of “a respiratory infection, with a nasal discharge and some shortness of breath”. Again, medical experts said it was not a sign of widespread infection in pets.
But there have been serious outcomes for some pets diagnosed with Covid-19. On 31 July, the first dog to test positive for Covid-19 in the US died, after reportedly struggling with symptoms that may be familiar to many of the virus's human sufferers.
Buddy the seven-year-old German shepherd from New York had been ill since April, around a similar time to when his owner Robert Mahoney was recovering from Covid-19. The dog was eventually euthanised after suffering long-term health problems as a result.
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What do experts say about animal-human transmission?When the UK had its first confirmed pet case in July, Christine Middlemiss, chief veterinary officer, maintained it was “very rare” for a cat to have contracted the virus. Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, said: “This is the first case of a domestic cat testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK but should not be a cause for alarm. The investigation into this case suggests that the infection was spread from humans to animals, and not the other way round.”
On 19 June, a paper published in The Lancet Microbe by researchers from University College London (UCL), said more research was needed into domesticated animals that are susceptible to Covid-19, including pet cats and dogs .
They referred to the discovery of the virus in mink farms, where outbreaks of Covid-19 resulted in the culling of the animals.Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of mink fur, has killed approximately 10 million mink to date after finding the virus had infected the animals and fearing variant strains of the virus could be introduced to wild animals.On 20 November, Ireland confirmed it would be culling 120,000 of the animals in a bid to avoid the same situation as Denmark.
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How can you reduce any chance of spread to pets?
The government says the best way to ensure you reduce all chances of transmitting the virus to your pet is to: wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet, do not share food with them and avoid kissing or cuddling if you are self-isolating.
There is no evidence that you need to wash your pets to control the spread of coronavirus.The World Health Organisation says: "It is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.”