The coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 is pulling off new tricks seemingly every day. Experts in Hong Kong say there’s clear evidence the virus can cross over from humans to dogs and possibly other pet animals. But they don’t suspect the virus causes serious disease in dogs, nor that dogs are spreading the virus back to people.
In late February, officials from the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that a single dog had tested weakly positive for the coronavirus after its owner was diagnosed with COVID-19, the name of the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. At the time, they speculated that the dog’s mouth and nose may have simply been contaminated by the virus from the surrounding environment, rather than that virus was capable of infecting and growing in the dog. But further days of positive tests suggest the dog is indeed infected.
According to the AP, a wide range of experts in Hong Kong and from the World Organisation for Animal Health have now agreed that we’re likely seeing “a case of human-to-animal transmission.”
The discovery isn’t terribly shocking, given that SARS-CoV-2 is strongly believed to have crossed over from animals to humans in the first place, with bats singled out as the likely primary host (that said, another intermediate host species may have been the actual source of transmission to people).
On the bright side, you shouldn’t worry about your pets becoming the next phase of a global pandemic. Dogs, like humans, have the same sort of receptors that allow coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 to infect their cells. But even other species of coronaviruses specifically evolved to infect dogs tend not to make them sick, and health officials have said the dog isn’t experiencing any “relevant” symptoms of infection. These officials also maintain there’s no evidence currently that dogs could transmit the infection back to humans.
It is theoretically possible that dogs could spread it to people, if they have high levels of the virus in their saliva, for instance. But again, in this one case, the virus doesn’t seem to be thriving enough for that to happen, nor have any cases of human infection been traced to pets during the current outbreak.
Still, health officials have continued to quarantine the dog in question, with plans to return it to the owner once they both test negative. They also recommend the pets of anyone with a confirmed infection be quarantined as well. As always, it remains good hygiene to wash your hands before and after handling pets, to avoid close contact with pets if either they or your are sick, and to try our absolute hardest to not kiss them.
Currently, the virus has caused more than 96,000 reported cases of COVID-19, along with over 3,300 deaths, with 177 documented cases in the U.S.