Substantial number of people give Covid-19 to their companion animals

There have been a few studies on this subject unsurprisingly. It is obviously highly pertinent at the moment. However, a recent study from Canada led by a veterinary pathologist, Dorothee Bienzle of the University of Guelph, appears to confirm that the level of transmission of infection from people suffering from Covid-19 to their cats and dogs is higher than once thought. The Times newspaper calls it a small study which shows that the disease can cross species relatively easily but it does not answer the question as to whether the disease can then be transmitted back to other people. The general consensus appears to be that domestic cats and dogs don’t transmit the disease to people or if they do so it is a low level. We also know that cats and dogs normally show low level symptoms when they do have the disease but some show similar symptoms to those of humans.

Photo: Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

In essence, the research found that pet owners who had been diagnosed with Covid-19 at some time in the past had transmitted the disease to some of their cats and dogs. They found that 20% of dogs tested positive for a coronavirus antibody which indicated that they had been infected.

I think we should consider that a person with Sars-Cov2 has a good likelihood of passing it on to their cat, especially if they are quite sick. A good precaution would be to consider that pet is just like another person that needs to be kept away from infecting others.– Dorothee Bienzle

The report concluded that, “these preliminary results suggest that a substantial proportion of pets in households of persons with Covid-19 end up developing antibodies”. By this they mean that the animals were exposed to the disease from their owners and other people in the home and contracted it as they developed the antibodies to protect against it. So the important phrase here is “substantial proportion of pets”. We don’t have an actual figure as far as I can tell. Although The Times newspaper say that half of the cats and two of the dogs came up positive with the antibody test. This implies that half of the pets exposed to the disease by their owners contracted it.

The Daily Mail Reporter made a mistake when they said, “While there is no evidence so far that humans can contract Covid-19 from animals…”. This is clearly wrong because it is generally agreed that the disease originates in an unspecified wild animal (pangolin?) at a wet market in Wuhan, China (or from a laboratory in Wuhan). This was a direct transmission of the disease from an animal to a person. They is therefore good evidence that it can happen. This would imply that companion animals can transmit the disease to people but, knowing that, people should not be alarmed because there is no firm evidence at the moment that it is taking place.

The issue with this research is that it is gradually emerging that cats and dogs can contract the disease from their owners but that the animals show very low level symptoms or on occasions no symptoms at all.

I searched for the actual study report and failed to find it and therefore and relied upon reports in newspapers which I don’t like to rely on to be perfectly honest. Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease. However, I was able to read about this in The Times newspaper which helps me. The author, Tom Whipple, writes that the cats and dogs were also tested for a current infection but all the tests proved negative. It appears that they had recovered from the infection. Another reason may be because they do not shed the virus which implies that they cannot be infect other people or animals. This is still working progress, however. The owners reported that the cats were symptomatic

Some cats were very ill. Coughing, not eating, lethargic, not grooming”.

There have been reports of cross-infection between animals. The fear is that if cats can pass the disease to their owners and other household residents then they could act as a reservoir of the illness even after the pandemic has been suppressed. The Prof said that this may be an issue in countries with a large number of feral cats such as in the Middle East and India. But, as mentioned, we should not overreact to these findings.

Guelp Uni describe the study as “one of the first of its kind to examine what risk COVID-19 in humans poses to pets and why some animals become infected while others do not.”

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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