Humans share many things with their dogs, from the sofa to cuddles and quality time. But it seems the list of joint experiences may also include coronavirus infections.
Experts say they have detected the first case in the UK of a pet dog catching coronavirus, apparently from its owners. The canine’s infection was confirmed after testing on 3 November.
It is not the first time that pets have tested positive for the virus; the same laboratory detected coronavirus in a cat last year, while research from the Netherlands has previously suggested that the virus is common in cats and dogs owned by people who have Covid.
Some experts have suggested owners with Covid should avoid their pets to prevent spreading the virus to them, and have raised concerns the animals could act as a reservoir of the virus, potentially passing it back to humans.
The UK’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Christine Middlemiss, said coronavirus was confirmed in a pet dog in the UK after tests at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey.
“The infected dog was undergoing treatment for another unrelated condition and is recovering,” she said.
However, it seems owners need not be too worried. “It is very rare for dogs to be infected and they will usually only show mild clinical signs and recover within a few days. There is no clear evidence to suggest that pets directly transmit the virus to humans,” said Middlemiss. “We will continue to monitor this situation closely and will update our guidance to pet owners should the situation change.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also suggests there is little risk of catching Covid from a pet. “Based on the available information to date, the risk of animals spreading Covid-19 to people is considered to be low,” it states.
However it appears transmission can, at least sometimes, go the other way. “Covid-19 is predominantly spread from person to person, but in some situations the virus can spread from people to animals,” said Dr Katherine Russell, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency.
“In line with general public health guidance, you should wash your hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals,” she said.
Prof Rowland Kao, of the University of Edinburgh, said there was little sign that coronavirus infections in dogs were of concern.
“In order [for these infections in dogs] to be important for transmission there has to be contact, and production of virus,” he said. “If dogs were getting seriously infected often, we probably would have seen it before now. The fact that it hasn’t happened that much yet, with so much infection and so many people at home with their pets [suggests] it’s probably not an issue.”
Kao added that to be a reservoir of the virus, dogs would need to circulate the virus amongst themselves, for example in kennels – although Kao said dogs may not yet have returned in large numbers. “If they have, and we still haven’t seen much infection transmission, again it would seem to make it unlikely,” he said.
Cats and dogs are not the only animals to have caught coronavirus. “More recently, a big study has shown that white-tailed deer are probably circulating it among themselves in the US,” said Kao.
Outbreaks of coronavirus on mink farms led to mass culling of the animals in countries including Denmark, with the World Health Organization warning in February that there was a high risk of introduction and the spread of the coronavirus from fur farming to humans.
The CDC says mink to human transmission has been reported in countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Poland, adding there is a possibility of mink spreading the virus to people on mink farms.
But, the agency notes: “Currently, there is no evidence that mink play a significant role in the spread of Sars-CoV-2 to people.”
Prof James Wood, the head of the department of veterinary medicine at Cambridge University, said there was increasing evidence that asymptomatic and undetected infection of dogs and cats in households with human cases were actually quite common.
But he added: “The fact that they are common, perhaps counterintuitively, combined with their very rare real-time detection emphasises that they are generally not at all serious,” he said.
“Detailed risk assessments and understandings of these findings suggest that the risk of onward transmission to other pets or humans from dogs and cats is highly unlikely to occur. There is absolutely no suggestion that our pet animals will become reservoirs in the way that ferrets and white-tailed deer in Iowa have become.”