Is your pet at risk of catching the novel coronavirus?
In this Jan. 26, 2020, photo, Doug Perez and his girlfriend outfit their Labrador, Chubby, with a face mask before going out for a walk in Wuhan, China. (Doug Perez via AP)
TORONTO -- As photos of dogs wearing face masks pop up across social media, some are starting to ask if their beloved pet dog could catch the novel coronavirus.
According to multiple veterinary and health organizations, there’s no need for pet owners to panic about COVID-19, as there’s no sign yet that man's best friend is at risk of catching the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has put up a “myth buster” post on their website regarding domestic animals and the coronavirus, which confirmed that there have been no cases of the virus identified in pets.
“At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus,” the post reads.
WHO states that pet owners should still be as vigilant with hand washing and other preventive measures as anyone else.
An advisory document put out by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) said that there is also no evidence that domestic animals could “be a source of infection.”
More than 66,000 cases of COVID-19 have been identified so far, with more than 1,500 deaths worldwide.
Researcher and Ontario Veterinary College professor Scott Weese told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview that while there is a need for more investigation into the virus’ possible impact on domestic animals, “the risks are really low,” particularly in Canada.
Researchers believe that the virus did originally come from an “animal source,” according to both WSAVA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but it is now being spread from human-to-human.
“So if someone has coronavirus we want them to stay away from animals so there's nothing … to worry about,” he said, adding that animals should be included in a quarantine if a human in their household gets infected with the virus.
“The big thing is, you know, we're taking precautions just because we like to be proactive and it's better to be proactive (than) try to do damage control.”
However, he said putting a mask on your dog won’t be effective.
In a blog post, he added one of his main concerns is that overly frightened people could put down healthy pets out of fear of the animal being a potential source of the virus.
“Knowledge vacuums lead to fear,” he said. “Fear leads to knee jerk decisions, and those often lead to bad outcomes.”
DOGS CAN CATCH OTHER TYPES OF CORONAVIRUS
Dogs can catch certain types of coronavirus – specifically the “canine coronavirus.”
There is a canine respiratory coronavirus as well as a canine coronavirus disease that is based in the intestines. According to VCA Hospitals, the latter is passed from dog-to-dog and the main symptom is diarrhea.
Neither coronavirus affects humans, and can’t be passed to them.
The term “coronavirus” references a family of related viruses called “coronaviridae,” including animal-specific strains as well as those that cause illness in humans.
“Most coronaviruses are very specific in the range of species they affect,” Weese said. “So we’re hoping (COVID-19) is like that.”
With SARS, cats and ferrets could catch the virus, he pointed out, although there were no cases of dogs catching it. There have been no cases of cats contracting COVID-19 at this point, and no evidence to suggest they could.
The WSAVA advisory clarifies that in the coronaviridae family, viruses are split into alpha, beta, gamma and delta coronaviruses. Alpha and beta viruses can infect mammals, while gamma and delta viruses usually appear in fish and birds. Canine coronavirus and feline coronavirus are both classified as alpha coronaviruses.
COVID-19 is a beta coronavirus, the advisory explains.
Weese said that canine coronavirus and COVID-19 are no more related than COVID-19 is to other coronaviruses found in other animals.