05/03/2020 6:50 PM IST

Can Coronavirus Spread To Pets? Here's What Cat And Dog Owners Should Know

Please don't put a face mask on your pet.

With news of a dog in Hong Kong testing ‘weak positive’ for coronavirus, in what’s considered a possible case of human-to-animal transmission, pet owners may understandably be concerned about what this could mean for their own furry companions.

The Pomeranian in question belongs to a 60-year-old patient. The pooch had repeatedly tested ‘weak positive’ for Covid-19, despite not showing any symptoms. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said the dog has “a low-level of infection”.

However it can’t yet confirm whether the test result was caused by environmental contamination or shows the dog actually has the virus.

In inland China, Connor Reed, a 25-year-old expat from Llandudno who moved to Wuhan, was one of the first Brits to be diagnosed with the virus after becoming ill in November last year. He told of how a stray kitten living near his apartment became ill at the same time and sadly died a few days later.

The kitten, which he’d been feeding, had lost its appetite and wasn’t its “usual lively self”. Two days later it died. “I don’t know whether it had what I’ve got, or whether cats can even get human flu. I feel miserable,” he wrote in a diary entry seen by the Daily Mail. Again, it’s currently unclear whether the kitten he’d been feeding died from the virus or something else.

Aonip via Getty Images

As it stands, there is no solid evidence that pets can be infected with Covid-19, nor that they could pass on the virus to humans. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that if a person tests positive for coronavirus, they should restrict contact with animals, just as they would avoid other humans.

RSPCA animal welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines tells HuffPost UK: “There’s no evidence to suggest that pets can be carriers of coronavirus or can become ill from it themselves.

“We would urge pet owners not to panic and to not abandon their pets.”

However, lots of people who don’t have symptoms are currently self-isolating, especially if they’ve flown back from a country where the virus has spread rapidly. What is the advice for the dog and cat owners among them?

The RSPCA and Dogs Trust advise people who have been told to self-isolate and have tested positive for Covid-19 to try and make alternative arrangements for someone else to look after their pet until they are past the 14-day mark (or they feel better). This will allow dogs in particular to continue with their normal exercise routine while you remain housebound.

If this is absolutely not possible, there are ways to keep your dog happy and healthy within the comfort of your home, says a Dogs Trust spokesperson, from involving their favourite treats to building doggy dens and treasure hunts. Most cats are better equipped if their owners are told to self-isolate as many of them go outside on their own terms.

Pet owners diagnosed with Covid-19 are urged to try and keep their pets in a separate part of the home to where they are self-isolating. Cats will need access to the outdoors or a clean litter tray, as well as their food and water bowls.

“Avoid contact with your pet including stroking, petting, being kissed or licked and sharing food,” says Dr Gaines. “If there isn’t anyone else able to look after your pet then wash your hands before and after you touch them and wear a face mask.”

Both RSPCA and the CDC advise wearing a face mask while interacting with your pet, but don’t put one on them. There have been reports of people in China rushing to buy masks to put on their dogs and cats – this is not currently advised by any UK health bodies.

If you haven’t tested positive or been told to self-isolate, you can continue to interact with your pets as normal but should maintain good hygiene practices including washing hands before and after touching and handling your pet, as well as their food and any items such as toys and bedding.

“Avoid being kissed or licked and sharing food with your pet,” says Dr Gaines.

But don’t worry too much. Charity Cats Protection tells HuffPost UK: “There is no current evidence that cats (or other companion animals) carry or spread the virus. From a welfare point of view, Cats Protection would simply urge the public to keep themselves and their cats safe in line with current guidelines.”

If your pet does develop an unexplained illness and has been exposed to a person who tested positive for Covid-19, the WSAVA, a global community of vets, advises to tell the public health official working with the person infected. They should then consult with a veterinarian.

Just as humans with a risk factor are advised against turning up to the doctor’s unannounced, pet owners should not take a pet that’s been exposed to someone with the virus to the vets without consulting over the phone first.