By: Kanokwan Yimjoo
As the COVID-19 virus causes panic and fear across the world, a more shocking news has emerged following the detection of coronavirus in a dog that belongs to a COVID-19 patient in Hong Kong.
So, can our companion animals catch the virus if they are in close contact with a detected human? Can pets spread the virus among themselves? Also, should we social distance ourselves from our dogs and cats?
Professor Dr. Roongroje Thanawongnuwech, Dean of Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University shares his thoughts on the recent discovery, “Over 80% of emerging diseases found in humans actually come from the wildlife. For instance, now we know for certain that the COVID-19 virus has originated from bats. However, it is still unclear whether there are any other animals involved in the transmission of the infection from bats to humans.”
The case of a pet dog testing positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong has not yet been identified as a case of infection, as the viral genome level detected was rather low and there is no evidence of dogs spreading the disease back to humans.
Professor Dr. Roongroje explains the mechanism behind the spread of the virus, pointing out that “Human cells act as receptors, like locks, whereas the virus is the key. To get infected, there needs to be 3 identical genetic linings. Meanwhile, there is only 1 out of 3 genetic lining matches between humans and pet dogs or cats. Therefore, the dog detected with a small volume of the virus is regarded as a contamination, not an infection.”
Professor Dr. Roongroje Thanawongnuwech
Dean of Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University
Nonetheless, we should remain extra careful, warns Professor Dr. Roongroje. “If you are in the high-risk group or a COVID-19 patient, apart from isolating yourself from your family members, you should also give some distance between you and your pets”, says Professor Dr. Roongroje.
We may not spread the COVID-19 virus to our pets directly, but our pets may carry the virus from other humans to us. “You should be more cautious when taking your pets for a walk outside during the pandemic. Most dogs like to sniff and lick, and the virus can be anywhere in the environment. Let’s say there’s a used surgical mask laying around outside and your dog happens to lick the mask. It is possible for the virus to be transmitted back to humans when we touch our pet.”
Other precautions include avoiding contact with livestock animals such as pigs, chickens, and cows.
“Although there is no proven research to support whether the virus can be transmitted from humans to animals, we should still be careful as this may lead to the re-transmission of virus from animals back to humans in the future”, says Professor Dr. Roongroje.