CityU Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine Issues Advice on Covid-19 and Pets

March 4, 2020

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) pro-actively introduced a 14-day quarantine and health screening for pets belonging to people infected with the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. We understand that three pets, two dogs and one cat, have been tested for the virus so far. Veterinarians collected stool samples and swabs from the nose and mouth of these pets. One dog and the cat both tested negative and were being released back to their owners at the end of the quarantine period.

The second dog, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, belonging to the 85th confirmed Covid-19 case in Hong Kong tested "weak positive" on nasal and oral swabs collected on February 26th. After being taken to the AFCD's animal quarantine facility additional samples collected on February 28th and March 2nd again returned a "weak positive" result. On all occasions the dog's stool sample tested negative.

The dog does not have any signs of respiratory illness or fever and is eating well in quarantine. According to AFCD veterinarians, the dog will continue to be monitored closely and will not be released back into the care of its family until it tests negative for Covid-19, and only after the quarantine period is over.

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Professor Vanessa Barrs, Chair Professor of Companion Animal Health in the Department of Public Health and Infectious Diseases at the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences said that "These test results suggest that the dog has a low-level of infection, which was also found in several pets in the SARS outbreak in 2003. Previous experience with SARS suggests that cats and dogs will not become sick or transmit the virus to humans. At that time, a small number of pets tested positive but none became sick. Importantly, there was no evidence of viral transmission from pet dogs or cats to humans"

Professor Barrs said that the media and public must be careful not to misinterpret this information. She said that the weak positive test result from the Pomeranian dog indicates that the dog has been exposed to the virus, which is not surprising because the owner was infected. All available evidence supports that cases of Covid-19 are the result of human to human transmission.

City University Infectious Diseases Researchers including Professor Barrs, Professor Julia Beatty, and Assistant Professors Dr Kim Dal Young and Dr Yun Young Go are working closely with the SPCA (HK) and the Hong Kong Veterinary Association to ensure that pet owners are being provided with reliable information about coronaviruses and pets. They urge owners not to make knee-jerk reactions or abandon their pets. Professor Barrs said: "Pets are dependent on humans for their wellbeing and welfare. If you are a pet-owner, it is your responsibility to look after your pet. There is no evidence that pets are getting sick from Covid-19 or causing human infections. The best way to prevent Covid-19 is to practice good personal hygiene. Wash your hands regularly, keep your home and work environments clean, and practice social distancing. Always wash your hands before and after touching animals."

Professor Barrs appreciates that dog owners may wish to extend hygiene measures to their dogs after taking them outside, as an extra precaution. If owners elect to do this, they should be careful only to use methods that are safe for pets. For example, owners could wash their dogs after a walk using a mild shampoo or wipe their coat and paws first with an antiseptic hand-sanitising wipe, then use a clean wet cloth to remove the antiseptic.

Media enquiries: Bonnie Chu, Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Science (Tel: 9210 5570).