Scientists in the Netherlands say that although cases of owners passing on the respiratory disease to their pets are not a major risk to public health, they say that pets could hold the virus and therefore reintroduce it to humans.
Dr Els Broens, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said: “If you have Covid-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people.
“The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health – they had no or mild symptoms of Covid-19 – but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population.
“Fortunately, to-date no pet-to-human transmission has been reported.
“So, despite the rather high prevalence among pets from Covid-19 positive households in this study, it seems unlikely that pets play a role in the pandemic.”
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The research led by Dr Broens was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) but has not yet been published in a journal.
Dr Broens and his colleagues analysed the PCR test results of 156 dogs and 154 cats 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.
Eight cats and dogs that lived in the same homes as the PCR-positive pets were also tested for a second time to check for virus transmission among pets.
None of the animals tested positive, suggesting the virus was not being passed between pets living in close contact with one another.
But researchers said their findings show that Covid-19 is highly prevalent in pets of people who have had the disease.
Meanwhile, separate research, also presented at the ECCMID meeting, suggests that cats that sleep on their owner’s bed may be at particular risk of getting Covid-19 infection.
Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Canada, who presented the findings, said: “If someone has Covid-19 there is a surprisingly high chance they will pass it on to their pet.
“Cats, especially those that sleep on their owner’s bed, seem to be particularly vulnerable.
“So, if you have Covid-19, I’d advise that you keep your distance from your pet – and keep it out of your bedroom.”
Prof Bienzle also recommends keeping coronavirus-infected pets away from other people and pets.
She said: “While the evidence that pets can pass the virus on to other pets is limited, it can’t be excluded.
“Similarly, although pets have not been shown to pass the virus back to people, the possibility can’t be completely ruled out.”
Commenting on the findings, Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, said that both studies are consistent with “a growing number of studies that are suggesting that a substantial proportion of pet cats and dogs may catch Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes Covid-19) from their owners”.
He added: “Cats and dogs may commonly be infected with the virus, but most reports are that this infection appears to be asymptomatic.
“It also seems that the virus does not normally transmit from dogs and cats to either other animals or their owners."