Can our pets be a source of COVID-19 infection?
While pets might not be transmitting the virus, it is still crucial to take precautions.
Can our pets be a source of infection?
The question became a concern after it was reported late in February that a dog had tested a “weak positive” for COVID-19 in Hong Kong, igniting discourse over online about the possibility of domestic animals transmitting the respiratory disease to their owners.
The dog in question, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, was owned by a 60-year-old woman who tested positive for the virus.
Currently, there have been no reports in Singapore of pets being infected with the virus so far.
An expert that Youth.SG spoke to added that pets are not seen as a source of infection.
Dr Haoting Chow, a veterinarian with the Singapore’s SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), said: “Based on the current research, there is still no evidence at this time that mammalian pet animals (such as dogs and cats) could be a source of infection to other animals or humans.”
He added further that in the 2003 SARS outbreak, there were also a small number of human-to-animal (reverse zoonotic) transmissions.
“But researchers later concluded that these animals did not play a role in transmitting the virus to other animals or people,” Dr Chow said.
Despite this, the Ministry of Health (MOH) director of Medical Services, Kenneth Mak, did caution that a zoonotic or reverse zoonotic transmission of the virus can be a “theoretical possibility”, according to media reports.
So, it is still key to maintain proper hygiene with pets, especially since pets that go on walks could get in touch with contaminated surfaces.
Alyssa, who a pet owner of 10 years, told Youth.SG that she has made it a point to clean up her two dogs, especially their paws, after taking them out for a walk.
“We bring them down five times a day. And we wash with soap at night mostly,” the 22-year-old said. She has also cut the normal 45-minute to one-hour walks shorter to a maximum of 30 minutes to avoid spending prolonged time outside.
Apart from that, Dr Chow also suggested effective hand hygiene methods while handling pets is crucial too.
“Washing your hands before and after interacting with your pets would minimise their risk as well,” he said.
Pet owners should wear a mask if they are experiencing respiratory symptoms. It is also advisable to avoid crowded places or places filled with people showing flu-like symptoms, he added.
Additionally, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) recommended owners who are sick to avoid any contact with their pets – including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, or even sharing food.
In any case, pet owners should always be vigilant in maintaining good hygiene to deter any diseases and to protect the health of both themselves and their pets as well. After all, owning a pet is a lifetime commitment.
They should be aware of common zoonotic bacterial infections such as E. Coli and Salmonella too, as both are potentially fatal in certain circumstances. Not to mention, other zoonotic nasties such as intestinal parasites (tapeworms) and skin parasites (fleas and mites) can give owners a huge headache.
Thus, it would be wise and responsible of owners to vaccinate and deworm their pets at least once a year to prevent any onset of diseases, Dr Chow said.
“Whatever you do, do not do anything that may compromise the welfare of your pet,” he added.