While this article was correct at the time it was first published, the evidence regarding pets and other animals being infected with the new coronavirus has moved on since then. While it is still the case there is no evidence you can catch the new coronavirus from your pet, there’s some evidence animals may be able to become infected. Our latest piece on the evidence around animals testing positive for the virus can be found here.
This article has been archived as a result. You can find our latest fact checks on the new coronavirus here.
Our readers have asked us: can Covid-19 cross between humans and pets?
Several newspapers have reported that a dog in Hong Kong has contracted the virus from its owner and, following this, authorities there have warned residents to not kiss pets. However, the dog had no symptoms and experts say pets are unlikely to be infected or a source of infection.
The latest advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that “there is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as dogs or cats have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19”. NHS England provides similar advice on its website.
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A dog in Hong Kong has tested ‘weak positive’ for Covid-19
On 28 February 2020, the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department reported on a case of a pet dog testing “weak positive to Covid-19 virus”. The dog had no symptoms and was put into quarantine.
The department initially proposed that the weak positive Covid-19 infection could be the result of “environmental contamination of the dog’s mouth and nose”.
However, on 4 March, the department said that the dog did have a low level infection with the virus. Citing several expert sources, including the World Organisation for Animal Health, the department also said that this infection was likely to be from human-to-animal transmission.
But some other experts have questioned whether there is enough evidence to say this dog has the virus
A professor of Molecular Virology, Jonathan Ball, from the University of Nottingham has said that there is a need to differentiate between real infection and detecting the presence of the virus in a dog. A viral immunologist and veterinary surgeon, Sarah Caddy, has written that the test used in Hong Kong would be unable to detect whether the dog had the virus or if it had “simply licked contaminated surfaces in the home”.
We spoke to the Department of Health and Social Care, which said that (as published on the NHS website) there is currently no evidence that companion animals or pets can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
There is no evidence to suggest that pets can pass Covid-19 on to humans
The President of the British Veterinary Association has emphasised that “there remains no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of Covid-19 for humans or other animals, or that they become sick”.
Experience with similar viruses in the past suggests that the current situation is unlikely to change. For example, some domestic pets tested positive for a low level of SARS infection back in 2003, but none became sick or transmitted the disease to humans.
The WHO’s advice about interacting with pets is still important
The WHO says “it is always a good idea to wash your hand 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”.
The Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department gave similar advice on good hygiene practice for pet owners, including additional advice of avoiding kissing pets. It also warned that “pet owners need not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets”.
There is some extra advice for pet owners who have may have Covid-19
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says “You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.”
Public Health England’s home isolation guidance includes the following advice about pets: “Try to keep away from your pets. If unavoidable, wash your hands before & after contact.”