The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has killed more than 1,300 people after it was first detected in China last December. In China alone, more than 59,000 people have been infected but the disease has already spread to nearly 30 countries, including nine cases in the UK.
As the world scrambles to contain the epidemic, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has issued advice for all pet owners.
Dr Michael Lappin, chair of the WSAVA’s One Health Committee, has encouraged all cat owners to keep their pets indoors for the time being.
Similarly, anyone who has recently travelled to China and is under a self-imposed quarantine was told to keep their pets with them.
Although there is no evidence of pets spreading the coronavirus pathogen at the moment, WSAVA noted this is a “rapidly developing situation”.
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Dr Lappin has advised veterinarians to tell pet owners to:
- Keep their companion animals with them if they are self-quarantined.
- Keep cats inside.
- Arrange for care for any animals left at home if family or friends are hospitalised.
- Contact their veterinarian immediately if they have questions or concerns.
Dr Lappin said: “There is still much we don’t know about 2019-CoV and, while the priority is to bring the outbreak of the infection caused to people under control as soon as possible, we are concerned for animal welfare with reports of animals being abandoned or killed because their owners fear that they might carry the virus.
“There is no evidence that this is necessary and we urge our members to ensure owners follow our guidance and keep them and their companion animals safe.”
Can pets catch the coronavirus disease? Can animals spread the coronavirus?
The coronavirus family of viruses is zoonotic, meaning it can be spread between animals and humans.
We are concerned for animal welfare with reports of animals being abandoned or killed
Dr Michael Lappin, World Small Animal Veterinary Association
The COVID-19 epidemic is believed to have originated with bats, in a similar way to how the animals spread the 2003 SARS outbreak.
There is, however, no evidence at this time of pets spreading the coronavirus pathogen.
WSAVA said: “Alpha- and beta-coronaviruses usually infect mammals, while gamma and delta coronaviruses usually infect birds and fish.
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“Canine coronavirus, which can cause mild diarrhoea and feline coronavirus, which can cause feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), are both alpha-coronaviruses.”
Until the appearance of COVID-19, formerly dubbed novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), there were only six coronavirus strains known to infect humans with respiratory illnesses.
These strains were the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East repository syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
The veterinarian group said: “Currently there is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals can be infected with this new coronavirus.
Additionally, there is currently no evidence that pets or other domestic animals might be a source of infection to people with the new coronavirus.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.”
However, the group also said it is currently unknown if pets can catch the virus if they come in contact with infected people.
WSAVA said: “ Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with 2019-nCoV, several types of coronaviruses can cause illness in animals and spread between animals and people.
“Until we know more, avoid contact with animals and wear a facemask if you must be around animals or care for a pet in order to protect the pet from the possibility of disease transmission.”
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