A dog has tested “weak positive” for coronavirus in Hong Kong, government officials have confirmed. However, there is no evidence that pets can catch the virus from humans, or that they can transmit it, so don’t panic just yet.
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) confirmed that the dog of a patient infected with COVID-19 is under quarantine after oral, nasal, and rectal samples tested mildly positive for the virus. The dog has no symptoms, however, and it is not clear if the pet pooch is actually infected or it picked up the virus from a contaminated surface.
“At present, the AFCD does not have evidence that pet animals can be infected with COVID-19 virus or can be a source of infection to people,” the statement reads. "The Department will conduct close monitoring of the above dog and collect further samples for testing to confirm if the dog has really been infected with the virus or this is a result of environmental contamination of the dog's mouth and nose.”
As a precaution, the AFCD will quarantine the pets of patients infected with the virus at the facility under vet surveillance until we know more.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also confirmed the case on Friday during a press conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
“We’re working with them to understand the results, to understand what further testing they are doing and to understand how they are going to care for these animals,” Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of WHO’s emergencies program, said at the press briefing.
It’s important to note that though it’s likely the coronavirus was initially transmitted from animals to humans, this is not evidence that transmission is possible between humans and pets.
“There is no evidence that the human novel coronavirus can infect dogs and it would be incredible for a virus to make so many species jumps in such a short space of time!” Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, pointed out.
“We have to differentiate between real infection and just detecting the presence of a virus – these are very different – and the fact that the test result was weakly positive would suggest that this is environmental contamination or simply the presence of coronavirus shed from the human contact that has ended up in the dog’s samples.”
In the meantime, experts are reminding people to keep up good hygiene with their pets. The WHO maintains that there is no evidence that pets can be infected with the virus, but you should always wash your hands with soap after contact with a pet as this protects you against E. coli and Salmonella, both of which can pass from pets to humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises anyone who is infected with COVID-19 to restrict contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.