Dogs and cats can catch COVID-19 from their owners and can even come down with symptoms, a new study shows.
Vet experts have warned pet owners with symptoms to stay away from their animals in case they infect them too.
In the latest preliminary research, which has not been peer reviewed, vet science experts in Canada tested the pets of a group of people with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
The experts, in a first group, took swabs from 17 cats, 18 dogs and one ferret whose owners had a diagnosis within two weeks. These were all negative for a current illness, except one unclear result.
Then they take blood antibody tests of eight cats and 10 dogs, whose owners were outside the two-week window, comparing these to control samples taken from the same animals before the pandemic.
Among the cats the results indicated presence of IgG or IgM antibodies in four (50 percent) and three (38 percent) respectively, while two dogs also tested positive (20 percent).
The tests indicated all cats and one of the dogs with antibodies were reported to have shown signs of respiratory or other illness at the same time as their owners.
“While eligible participant number was limited by relatively low human transmission rates in the study area, these preliminary results suggest that a substantial proportion of pets in households of persons with COVID-19 end up developing antibodies,” said study co-author Dorothee Bienzle, Professor of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
Independent experts commenting on the research said the sample size was too small to draw broad conclusions and that pet owners should not be worried.
Sally Cutler, Professor of Medical Microbiology, University of East London said there was not enough evidence to alarm people attempting to isolate from their animals.
“Pets can be a source of comfort for humans especially when unwell,” she said, adding that it had not yet been demonstrated whether pets could be a source of human infection.
Domestic cats and dogs from Europe to the US have tested positive for the virus during the pandemic, while in April New York’s Bronx Zoo said a tiger had caught the virus, probably from an asymptomatic caretaker.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it was unclear whether infected animals pose a risk to humans.