WHO updates pet guidance during COVID-19 pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its guidance on the risks of COVID-19 to pets.

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(LightField Studios | Bigstock.com)
(LightField Studios | Bigstock.com)

The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its guidance on the risks of COVID-19 to pets, after an ailing tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and researchers observed the virus responsible for the disease reproduce in domestic cats and ferrets then transmit from cat-to-cat.

The WHO Q&A about COVID-19 and coronaviruses now states:

Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?

  • We are aware of instances of animals and pets of COVID-19 patients being infected with the disease;
  • As the intergovernmental body responsible for improving animal health worldwide, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has been developing technical guidance on specialised topics related to animal health, dedicated to veterinary services and technical experts (including on testing and quarantine);
  • There is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Further evidence is needed to understand if animals and pets can spread the disease;
  • Based on current evidence, human to human transmission remains the main driver;
  • It is still too early to say whether cats could be the intermediate host in the transmission of the COVID-19.

COVID-19 virus replicates, transmits cat-to-cat

Scientists at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China directly inoculated domestic cats with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 disease in humans. The scientists conducted similar trials with dogs, pigs, chickens, ferrets and ducks. The virus could replicate in ferrets and cats, but none of the other animals.

“These results indicate that SARS-CoV-2 can replicate efficiently in cats, with younger cats being more permissive and, perhaps more importantly, the virus can transmit between cats via respiratory droplets…” wrote the researchers in a preprint publication on bioRxiv. “Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in cats should be considered as an adjunct to elimination of COVID-19 in humans.”

However, the experimental conditions did not replicate those found in the home of a pet owner infected with the virus. The experiment involved 18 cats under controlled conditions. Health officials have not documented any cases of cats, ferrets or other pets directly transmitting the virus to humans.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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