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According to research presented online at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, COVID-19 is a common disease in pets of owners with the virus.
Although cases of owners passing the disease to their pets have been reported before, they are not considered to pose a risk to public safety. It is important to learn more about animal infections, especially as vaccines and other measures decrease the risk of virus transmission from human-to-human.
Dr. Els Broens, a Utrecht University colleague, examined dogs and cats from people who had been positive for COVID-19. Owners who have been positive for COVID-19 in the last two to 200 days were visited by a mobile veterinary clinic. Oropharyngeal and rectal samples and blood samples from their pets and cats were also taken.
The PCR tests used the swabs to detect current infection. Blood samples were also tested for antibodies to confirm past infection.
In total, 156 dogs and154 cats were tested from 196 households. Six cats and seven dogs (4.2%) had positive PCR tests, and 31 cats (and 23 dogs (17.4%), tested positive for antibodies.
Eleven of the 13 pet owners whose pets were positive for PCR testing agreed to have them undergo a second round of testing within one to three weeks. All 11 animals were positive for antibodies, which confirmed that they had been exposed to COVID-19. Three cats had positive PCR results and were tested again. All PCR-positive animals were eventually cleared and turned out to be PCR negative.
Eight cats and eight dogs who lived in the same households as the PCR-positive animals were tested at the second stage. This was to confirm that there had been no transmission of the virus among the pets. The virus was not being transmitted between pets in close proximity, as none of the positive tests were found.
The study revealed that COVID-19 is extremely prevalent in pets of people with the disease, with 40 out of 196 households (20.4%) showing antibodies.
According to the researchers, other studies have shown that COVID-19 rates are higher in pets who have had contact with people with the virus than in pets who have not. This suggests that the most likely route for transmission is from human to animal.
Dr. Broens says: "If COVID-19 is present, you should not be in contact with your dog or cat, as you would with other people.
"The main concern is not animals' health. They had only mild or no symptoms of COVID-19, but the possibility that pets could be a reservoir for the virus and reintroduced into the human population.
"Fortunately, there has not been any pet-to-human transmission. It seems unlikely that pets are involved in the pandemic, despite their high prevalence in COVID-19-positive households.
European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.