"We think the cat is a side victim of the ongoing epidemic in humans and does not play a significant role in the propagation of the virus," - Steven Van Gucht, virologist and federal spokesperson for the coronavirus epidemic in Belgium.
Since news reports about a dog having been tested positive for corona virus infection in Hong Kong, many started wondering if any precautions had to be taken to keep their beloved four-legged friends safe from COVID-19 and how to protect themselves against contracting it from them, too.
Here's the Latest News #
On 26 February, a Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong was put in quarantine when doctors found evidence of mild COVID-19 in its sinuses after multiple tests on nasal and oral samples. That dog died two days after being released from quarantine. Doctors said cause of death was not determined to be COVID-19 since the dog was 17 years old and no autopsy was performed. However, the owner had recently recovered from COVID-19. Then, the week of 19 March, a second dog was found to be infected with COVID-19. That dog is currently in quarantine.
Zoonosis is what scientists call a disease that can be transmitted from animals to people or, more specifically, that normally exists in animals but that can infect humans. There is no evidence that domestic animals can transmit the COVID-19 to humans. Quite the contrary, humans may be infecting their animals.
The Facts #
- A domestic cat in Belgium appears to have contracted the virus from its owner according to a well-regarded researcher in epizootic spreads, Dr. Daniel Desmecht of University of Liège Morphology and Pathology. “This is the first human-to-cat transmission,” Steven Van Gucht, virologist and federal spokesperson for the coronavirus epidemic in Belgium, told Live Science.
- The owner sent samples of vomit and feces to Dr. Daniel Desmecht's lab at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Liège.Genetic tests showed high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in those samples. "The cat recovered after 9 days," he said.
According to Van Gucht, during the 2003 SARS outbreak, cats were infected with a coronavirus as well.
- During the 2003 SARS outbreak, cats were infected with a coronavirus as well, Van Gucht said.
- So far, there is no definitive evidence to suggest that pets or livestock are at risk to catch the COVID-19 virus although livestock veterinarians are monitoring this potential development. Swine (pigs) are susceptible to at least six coronaviruses and people with regular exposure to pigs are at potential risk if COVID-19 is found to have epizootic spread.
- Proper safety measures like separating pets from humans or putting them under quarantine are currently being recommended by experts.
All-Clear Given by WHO Experts* #
In the FAQ section of their website, WHO experts give an all-clear, too. “No. There is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19” is their answer.
*We are monitoring for a revised official statement by the World Health Organization.
How Can an Animal Test Positive? #
Now, you might wonder if virologists find it unlikely for a pet to catch the corona virus, how could a cat or dog test positive in the first place? As we now know the animal was in close contact with its owner who did indeed carry the virus and was therefore most probably shedding large quantities of it.
This is how the virus got into the animal’s nose or on its fur then the animal licks its fur and ingests the virus. In humans, scientists have figured out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus attaches to a receptor protein called ACE2 that's on the outside of respiratory cells. Once inside of these cells, the virus hijacks certain machinery so it can replicate.
The owner sent diarrhea and feces to Dr. Desmecht's lab. Genetic tests showed high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in those samples. "The cat recovered after 9 days," Van Gucht said. He went on to say, "Cats and humans appear to have a similar "doorknob" on the surfaces of respiratory cells that lets the SARS-CoV-2 virus get inside." Once the cat is released from quarantine, blood samples will be tested to confirm initial lab tests.
Personal hygiene is not only crucial in protecting other humans but essential for maintaining the health of our pets. The standards of cleanliness apply: Wash your hands thoroughly, social distancing is mandatory and wait at least seven days after the absence of all symptoms before any interaction with others – humans or pets.
To find out all you need to know about COVID-19, read our ULTIMATE GUIDE>>
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By Ulla Rahn-Huber
30 March, 2020