Dogs and cats can catch coronavirus from their owners and can even come down with symptoms, a new study shows.
Vet experts have warned pet owners with symptoms to stay away from their animals in case they infect them too.
They added that while there is no conclusive evidence that a pet could give Covid-19 to its owner, the virus does not change between species so it is possible.Researchers in Canada started investigating when several pets were reported to have respiratory symptoms at the time when their owner was suffering from the virus.
Dorothee Bienzle, professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said: ‘These preliminary results suggest that a substantial proportion of pets in households of persons with Covid-19 become infected.’
The team, at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China, found that cats are highly susceptible to Covid-19 and appear to be able to transmit the virus through respiratory droplets to other cats.Experts said the findings were credible, but that they did not indicate cats were an important vector in spreading the disease between humans.
In the study, people who owned a cat, dog, and in one case a ferret and had a diagnosis of coronavirus were invited to have their pet swabbed.
If humans were outside the two-week window of suspected infectiousness, antibody testing was offered which looked for recent (IgM antibodies) or past infection (IgG antibodies).
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Out of the 17 cats, 18 dogs and one ferret, all cats were tested and none of them except one cat were currently infectious, but some showed signs of having been infected.
It is already known that coronavirus can be spread from person to person via the surface of pets , e.g. by stroking.‘While eligible participant number was limited by relatively low human transmission rates in the study area, these preliminary results suggest that a substantial proportion of pets in households of persons with Covid-19 end up developing antibodies,’ added Professor Bienzle.
‘Due to the narrow window of time available to detect a current infection in pets, especially if their owner is still sick and isolating, blood testing the animal at a later time to check for previous infection is preferable for assessment of human-to-animal transmission.
Ferrets, and other similar species such as mink, are highly susceptible to infection , according to the study.
‘Transmission from mink to humans has been reported on mink farms with a high proportion of infected animals maintained in close quarters and cared for by humans,’ she explained.
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‘Transmission from pets to humans has not been reported, but since the virus changes minimally or not at all after transmission from humans to animals, such reverse transmission may occur.’
Professor Bienzle has encouraged people with coronavirus to stay away from people, and their pets.
She said: ‘There is sufficient evidence from multiple studies, including ours, to recommend that SARS-CoV-2 infected persons should isolate from people and animals.’The research was released for the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Conference on Coronavirus Disease.
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