Scientists in the Netherlands have found that 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 pets could act as a “reservoir” for coronavirus and reintroduce it to humans.
Dr Els Broens, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said: “If you have Covid-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people.
“The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health – they had no or mild symptoms of Covid-19 – but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population.”
“Fortunately, to date no pet-to-human transmission has been reported,” said Dr Broens of the pre-print research. “So, despite the rather high prevalence among pets from Covid-19 positive households in this study, it seems unlikely that pets play a role in the pandemic.”
The research led by Dr Broens was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) but has not yet been published in a journal.
Dr 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 their findings show that Covid-19 is highly prevalent in pets of people who have had the disease.
Meanwhile, separate research, also presented at the ECCMID meeting, suggests that cats that sleep on their owner’s bed may be at particular risk of getting Covid-19 infection from their owners.
““If someone has Covid-19 there is a surprisingly high chance they will pass it on to their pet.”
Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Canada, who presented the findings, said: “If someone has Covid-19 there is a surprisingly high chance they will pass it on to their pet.
Prof Bienzle also recommends keeping coronavirus-infected pets away from other people and pets.
She 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, Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, said that both studies are 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.”
He said the studies need to be differentiated from earlier research that reported a very small number of poorly pets who’d caught Covid-19 from their humans.