SARS-CoV-2 and domestic animals, including pets
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Dogs in Hong Kong
On Thursday, February 27, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that samples obtained on February 26 from the nasal and oral cavities of a quarantined 17-year-old Pomeranian whose owner had been diagnosed with COVID-19 had tested “weak positive” for SARS-CoV-2, using a real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR) test. Results from a re**al swab and f***l sample were negative. The RT PCR test is sensitive, specific, and does not cross-react with other coronaviruses of dogs or cats. A “weak positive” result suggests a small quantity of SARS-CoV-2 RNA was present in the samples, but does not distinguish between RNA detected from intact virus and that detected from fragments of viral RNA. PCR testing was repeated on samples collected February 28, March 2, 5, and 9 with continued “weak positive” results on nasal cavity samples. In addition, gene sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from the Pomeranian and its close human contacts was completed on March 12 and the viral sequences were very similar. Results of a virus neutralizing antibody test on a sample collected March 3 were also available on March 12 and were negative, but further serological testing on that blood sample performed by the WHO reference laboratory yielded positive results, suggesting that the Pomeranian had developed an immune response to the virus. Virus isolation was performed with negative results. Results of RT PCR conducted on nasal samples on March 12 and 13 were also negative, and the dog was released to its owner on the following day. Experts from the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences of the City University of Hong Kong believe the consistency and persistence of the results suggest the virus may have spread from the infected people to the Pomeranian in this particular case. Testing was conducted by the laboratories of the AFCD and the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong. The latter is an accredited reference laboratory for the WHO for the testing of SARS-COV-2. The Pomeranian was one of two pet dogs under quarantine. The second pet dog had consistently negative results of tests for the virus. Neither dog showed any signs of respiratory disease during quarantine. Unfortunately, the Pomeranian that tested positive reportedly passed away three days after release. The dog was 17 years old and had ongoing health issues that were likely responsible for the death of this dog, rather than COVID-19.
On March 19, the AFCD reported that a two-year-old German Shepherd Dog, whose owner had tested positive for COVID-19, had also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, using RT PCR. Another mixed-breed dog from the same residence tested negative. Neither dog has shown signs of respiratory disease. Both dogs are in quarantine and are continuing to be monitored and tested.
As of March 25, the AFCD had conducted tests on 17 dogs and 8 cats from households with confirmed COVID-19 human cases, or people in close contact with confirmed patients, and only 2 dogs had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
Cat in Belgium
During the third week of March, the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) in Belgium reported it was informed on March 18 by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege that viral RNA of SARS-CoV-2 was detected by PCR (RT-PCR and high throughput sequencing PCR; specifics not provided) in the f***s and vomit of a cat with digestive and respiratory clinical signs. The cat was owned by a person infected with SARS-CoV-2, but according to the Scientific Committee of the FASFC it is not known whether the sequences of virus in the cat and the owner were similar.
Information is not available regarding what other conditions potentially leading to respiratory or gastrointestinal signs were considered or evaluated for this cat. The cat reportedly became ill one week after its owner had returned from Italy, but the date samples were collected in relationship to when the cat’s clinical signs first appeared and how those samples were collected (e.g., directly from the cat, off the floor) are also not known. Because other etiologic causes for the cat’s illness appear to have not been excluded and little is known about the samples in which viral material was detected, a clear link between the presence of viral material and clinical signs consistent with coronavirus infection cannot be established. The condition of the cat reportedly improved 9 days after onset of clinical signs.
Right now, we have limited information about SARS-CoV-2 and dogs and cats. However, taken collectively, as of right now it appears that dogs and cats are not infected easily with SARS-CoV-2, we have little to no evidence that they become sick, and there is no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people or other pets.
Cat in Hong Kong
On March 31, the AFCD reported that a pet cat that lived in a residence with an individual confirmed to be ill with COVID-19 had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 via oral cavity, nasal, and re**al samples. The cat is in quarantine and has exhibited no clinical signs of disease.
Pets in homes with owners with COVID-19
Whereas there is currently little to no evidence that pets or other domestic animals become sick with COVID-19, and no evidence that they can spread SARS-CoV-2, out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If you are ill with COVID-19 have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. Additional guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 is available from the CDC.
Testing companion animals
With the exception of the single report of illness in the cat in Belgium , there have not been additional reports of pets or other domestic animals becoming ill, and there is no evidence that domestic animals, including pets, can spread SARS-CoV-2. These findings are consistent with information obtained during a recent rapid review of the literature exploring evidence of infection of dogs and cats with human-associated coronavirus SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 and fomite potential for dogs and cats. Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. In the United States, the decision to test will made collaboratively between local, state, and federal animal and public health officials. Answers to questions frequently asked by state animal and public health officials and the public are available from USDA
After the decision is made to test, state animal health officials will designate a state-appointed veterinarian, USDA-accredited veterinarian, or foreign animal disease diagnostician to collect the sample using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and sample collection methods.
Again, current expert understanding is that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted person-to-person. This supports a recommendation against testing of pets for SARS-CoV-2, except by official order. If dogs or cats present with respiratory or gastrointestinal signs, veterinarians should test for more common pathogens and conditions.
Keeping pets safe
For responsible pet owners, preparing in advance is key. Make sure you have an emergency kit prepared, with at least two weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and any needed medications. Usually we think about emergency kits like this in terms of what might be needed for an evacuation, but it’s also good to have one prepared in the case of quarantine or self-isolation when you cannot leave your home.
While we are recommending these as good practices, it is important to remember that there is currently no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to other domestic animals, including people. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. In this emergency, pets and people each need the support of the other and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.
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