Covid-19 ‘common’ in pets whose owners have it - study

1 July 2021, 08:14 | Updated: 1 July 2021, 08:21

Whilst pets are unlikely to suffer seriously from Covid-19, scientists say that there is a "potential risk" that domestic animals could act as a "reservoir" for coronavirus and reintroduce it to humans
Whilst pets are unlikely to suffer seriously from Covid-19, scientists say that there is a "potential risk" that domestic animals could act as a "reservoir" for coronavirus and reintroduce it to humans. Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

Coronavirus is common in cats and dogs whose owners have the virus, according to experts.

Scientists in the Netherlands have said people with Covid-19 should avoid their pets when they have the illness in case they act as a “reservoir” for coronavirus and give it to other people.

"If you have Covid-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people,” said Dr Els Broens from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who led the research.

"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.

"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."

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The research, which involved analysing PCR test results of 156 dogs and 154 cats from 196 households, showed that just over 4 per cent had coronavirus at the time and over 17 per cent tested positive for antibodies, meaning they had likely had Covid-19 in the past.

The numbers show that Covid-19 is highly prevalent in pets of people who have had the disease.

Researchers then re-tested animals that lived in the same homes as ones that tested positive.

None of these animals tested positive, suggesting the virus was not being passed between pets living in close contact with one another.

The research was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) but has not yet been published in a journal.

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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," said Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Canada, who presented the findings.

"Cats, especially those that sleep on their owner's bed, seem to be particularly vulnerable.

"So, if you have Covid-19, I'd advise that you keep your distance from your pet - and keep it out of your bedroom."

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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."

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Commenting on the findings, Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the 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.

"These studies need to be differentiated from earlier work that has reported a very small number of individual cats and dogs to be unwell after they caught Covid-19 from their owners."