The ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in China and around the world is front page news with the number of confirmed cases and deaths increasing every day. The respiratory infection is attributed to the SARS-CoV-2 strain and was first diagnosed in Wuhan, China and believed to originate from either bats or pangolins sold at live animal markets.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found in both animals and humans, some of the strains infect people and are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The SARS-CoV-2 is a new strain of coronavirus that infects humans.
Across the media it has been well publicized that the virus is transmitted from animals to humans (link) – a matter that is causing distress in some pet owners: Some to the extent that there are even media reports of people abandoning their pets due to fear of contracting the infection from their pets (link).
Both canine coronavirus and feline coronavirus are part of the same Coronaviridae family as SARS-CoV-2. They do not pose a threat to human health as there are no documented cases of humans getting infected with the canine or feline strains. Furthermore, although little is currently known about SARS-CoV-2, it is important to remember that the virus is spread from human-to-human, and that there is no evidence that pets can be infected with or transmit SARS-CoV-2.
Pets and coronavirus
Expert authorities on public health and veterinary medicine including the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) emphasise that there is currently no evidence that pets can transmit the COVID-19 virus to humans². It is therefore important that people do not panic and abandoned their pets due to unjustified fear. Human-to-human transmission is the main route of transmission, especially through cough or sneeze droplets. It is advised therefore to avoid close contact with people exhibiting fever and coughing, to wash hands regularly, and to wear a face mask if coughing.
As the virus can survive in the environment for at least a few days, good hygiene measures should be applied when interacting with your pet as well. Avoid kissing your pet and wash your hands frequently in line with guidance from health authorities.
Canine and feline coronaviruses
The fear of contracting the virus is understandable, but currently there is no link between pets and the virus spreading to humans. It is therefore advisable not to take any rash decisions such as abandoning your pet or relinquish your pet to a shelter because you think they can pass on the virus.
Taking care of pets during an outbreak
Pets are part of our family and deserve the same level of attention during an outbreak as any other family member. It is therefore important to be prepared so that if you do need to stay at home during an outbreak, you have sufficient pet food, prescribed medication and supplies to provide adequate care for your pet. If a pet becomes ill during this time, a veterinary professional should be contacted for advice and treatment. Furthermore, it is sensible to make plans in case you are ill, so that if needed there is someone who can care for your pet.