For a coronavirus to cause disease, the virus doesn’t only have to get into the body. It has to get into the cells within the body, where it can multiply its genetic material (RNA, simlar to DNA). To be described as ‘infected’, the virus needs to be multiplying.

The access point of a cell (the receptor site) for COVID-19 is very different to those of the alpha viruses. Thus the chance of COVID-19 naturally infecting a dog or cat is believed to be very low.

There have been reports of an elderly Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong, and a cat in Belgium, testing positive for COVID-19. Both animals belonged to owners who were positive for COVID-19. The Pomeranian was tested due to being placed in quarantine, the cat because it was ill with respiratory and intestinal signs. The test result is not in question; the test looks for the virus’ genetic material and is highly specific. What IS in question is the significance of the result.

There is a vast difference in finding some virus in the dog’s nose or cat rectum, and the animal being ‘infected’. The dog was also subjected to antibody testing – looking for a response by the dog’s immune system to the virus, which would confirm the virus had sneaked in; there was NO response. The cat got better, and it is not known what other conditions were tested for, nor whether antibody testing was performed. Anything from a tummy bug to pancreatitis, with an episode of pollen allergy could have been responsible.

The press reported a study on 2nd April that appears to confirm cats can be infected and potentially transmit to other cats. Extreme caution is needed in the interpretation. The study involved a very small number of cats, and the cats were ‘inoculated with a high dose’ of coronavirus. One cat apparently contracted the virus from the others. It is not known how the virus was administered to the cats, nor has the paper been peer-reviewed for accuracy. How relevant this research is to the real world is unknown.

At time of writing (April 6th) there have been reports from New York concerning a tiger possibly catching the disease from its keeper. The same unanswered questions remain – did the tiger demonstrate an antibody response? What other infectious disease were tested for?

Idexx Laboratories (global veterinary laboratory) has so far tested thousands of dog and cat samples, during validation of a test they are manufacturing. All have been negative. If dog/cat transmission to people was happening, we would, after more than 3 months of the pandemic, be seeing it all over the world. WE ARE NOT.

What IS known, is that your dog or cat’s fur can harbour the virus, in the same way a trolley or door handle can. Thus, your pets should also be socially distanced – if walking the dog, others should not be stroking it. In the same vein, don’t go stroking cats you may meet out and about – but no need to be mean to them either!!

Speaking of walking the dog – since the outbreak, there has been a massive downturn in the number of enquiries at shelters. There are good shelters and bad. A good one will help pair you with the right forever dog, or point you in the right direction if they can’t.

My 2nd dog came from the Municipal Canil de Tavira. It was an excellent experience – I came away with a socialised, vaccinated, spayed, blood-tested dog who had already made friends with dog 1.

If you can’t adopt, please consider fostering/ dog-walking as a volunteer/ financial support – all the shelters are suffering. :-)