Scientists in the Netherlands have found coronavirus is common in pet cats and dogs where their owners have the disease. While cases of owners passing on Covid-19 to their pets are considered to be of negligible risk to public health, the scientists say there is a potential risk that domestic animals could act as a “reservoir” for coronavirus and reintroduce it to humans.
Dr Els Broens, from Utrecht University, said: “If you have Covid-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people.
The research led by Broens was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) but has not yet been published in a journal.
Broens and his colleagues analysed the PCR test results of 156 dogs and 154 cats from 196 households. Six cats and seven dogs (4.2%) had positive PCR tests and 31 cats and 23 dogs (17.4%) tested positive for antibodies.
Eight cats and dogs that lived in the same homes as the PCR-positive pets were also tested for a second time to check for virus transmission among pets. None of the animals tested positive, suggesting the virus was not being passed between pets living in close contact with one another. But researchers said that Covid-19 is highly prevalent in pets of people who have had the disease.
Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Canada said: “While the evidence that pets can pass the virus on to other pets is limited, it can’t be excluded. Similarly, although pets have not been shown to pass the virus back to people, the possibility can’t be completely ruled out.”
Commenting on the findings, Prof James Wood, the head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University, said both studies were consistent with “a growing number of studies that are suggesting that a substantial proportion of pet cats and dogs may catch Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes Covid-19) from their owners”.
He added: “Cats and dogs may commonly be infected with the virus, but most reports are that this infection appears to be asymptomatic. It also seems that the virus does not normally transmit from dogs and cats to either other animals or their owners.