believed the virus was likely to be present only on the surface of
But this week authorities confirmed
that the dog -- which has been in quarantine -- had repeatedly
tested weak positive, indicating a low-level infection with the
Experts, including those from the
World Organization for Animal Health, unanimously agreed that it
was likely a case of human-to-animal transmission.
But there's no need for pet owners
to panic yet.
"There is currently no evidence
that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that
they can become sick," the AFCD spokesman said.
To be safe, the AFCD recommends
that pet owners wash their hands after being around their animals,
and avoid kissing them.
The department also "strongly
advises" that pets of people infected with coronavirus should be
Both Hong Kong Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the World Organization
for Animal Health reiterated
that there is no
evidence of pets becoming sick with Covid-19, even when
"Members of the public are advised
to differentiate that 'being infected' does not equal being
infectious and capable of spreading the Covid-19 virus," Hong Kong
SPCA said in a statement.
Can pets give you coronavirus?
There were similar fears
coronavirus spreading to pets during the SARS outbreak in 2003
, when over
280 people died in Hong Kong. Experts believe that both SARS and
Covid-19 likely originated in bats.
Dogs and cats do get coronaviruses
-- but they are usually not the same viruses associated with this
outbreak, said Jane Gray, Hong Kong SPCA's chief veterinary
surgeon. The strains dogs and cats typically get don't cause
Back in 2003, scientists said the
chance of getting SARS -- which is also a type of coronavirus --
from your cat was extremely remote.
Gray, who was working in Hong Kong
during SARS, said the virus was found in a small number of cats,
but there was no evidence that they could pass it to humans.
Could a dog be contaminated with coronavirus?
We know that coronaviruses can live
on surfaces and objects
researchers don't know exactly how long this virus can linger
This is such a concern in mainland
China that the central bank has been deep cleaning and
potentially infected cash.
In the same way, coronavirus could
be present on the surface of a dog or cat, even if the dog or cat
hasn't actually contracted the virus.
"Present evidence suggests that
dogs are no more of a risk of spreading (coronavirus) than
inanimate objects such as door handles," wrote Sheila McClelland,
the founder of Hong Kong-based Lifelong Animal Protection Charity
(LAP), in a letter to the Hong Kong authorities, which she shared
to the US Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, the main way the disease is
spreading is from person-to-person, either from when people are
close together, or from respiratory droplets when an infected
person coughs and sneezes.
Is it worth quarantining pets?
According to Gray, there is value
in quarantining pets from a scientific perspective, because it
allows scientists to observe how an animal relates to a disease we
still know relatively little about.
"Whilst it seems a bit scary, it's
purely a precautionary measure, and it's certainly nothing for pet
owners in general to be concerned about," said Gray.
Some pet owners in mainland China
have been fitting their dogs with tiny face masks, but Gray said
there is no benefit to that -- in fact, it's probably fairly
distressing for the pet and could cause them to panic.
Instead, pet owners should stick to
the basics: good hygiene.
Both WHO and Gray said owners
should wash their hands with soap and water after touching pets.
Gray said if dog owners are particularly concerned, they can wipe
their dog's paws with antiseptic wipes after they have had a walk
outside -- but they should take care not to overdo it, as wiping
too much can dry out a dog's paws.
"I am certainly not in any concern
of my dog or cats, I'm far more concerned about myself catching it
from a human being that has the disease," said Gray, who is a pet
What's the bigger risk?
To veterinarians and animal rights
experts, there is a bigger issue than the potential spread of
coronavirus to pets: the spread of fear.
After the announcement that the
Hong Kong dog tested positive last week, the Lifelong Animal
Protection Charity (LAP) -- a group which helps rehome animals in
Hong Kong -- wrote to the government, saying its announcement
caused "a tremendous amount of panic."
McClelland, the founder of LAP,
said she had been contacted by "countless people" worried for their
pets, with many anxious that their dog or cat would be forcibly set
"In a state of panic, people could
abandon or kill their pets," she said. "Other people could
stigmatize people who have dogs. Dog owners could face unreasonable
problems when simply walking their pets outdoors, or neighbors
could create trouble for no reason."
Back in 2003, there were reports of
cats in Beijing being taken from the owners and killed by people
worried that they could be harboring the disease, according to a
New Scientist report.
In Hong Kong, there
was an increase of abandoned pets, said McClelland.
In Wuhan -- the Chinese city at the
center of the epidemic and which has been under lockdown for over a
-- pets have been trapped in apartments alone while
their owners are stuck outside the city. Volunteers from Wuhan
Small Animal Protection Association say they have
rescued hundreds of pets
Furry Angels Haven
, a group that works
to rescue homeless and neglected pets in Wuhan, said that "without
a doubt" there had been an increase in abandoned pets since the
outbreak and that pets were being unfairly targeted.
Last week, Gray and McClelland said
they hadn't seen any sign of an increase in pet abuse or
abandonment in Hong Kong. Instead, they've both seen a rise in
people looking into steps to export their pets overseas --
suggesting owners are looking to leave the city.
Why pets are worth keeping
Rather than pets being a
coronavirus culprit, they are actually good to have around in this
stressful period when many people are stuck working or studying
from home, says Gray.
Pets are likely happy to have extra
time with their owners, and can help lower people's blood pressure
and ease the feelings of stress, she said. "We know that stress
lowers our immunity, and no one right now wants their immunity
lowered," she added.
That's been the case for Hong Kong
resident Marco Leung, who has a seven-year-old pet dog. He's not
worried about his dog getting sick from coronavirus -- although he
has been taking precautions such as cleaning his dog after
"I know dogs will not be infected,
but if the virus goes on their skin or fur, it will stay there. So
if we are careful, I think it's OK," he said. He's been working
from home, so he gets to spend the whole day with his pet Hung Jai,
which means "little bear" in Cantonese.
"Working from home is very very
boring, so now I have more time for us to play together," he