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expert reaction to SAGE document about the risk of pets spreading coronavirus

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have released further documents and minutes, including a document on the risk of pets spreading coronavirus.

 

Dr Natalie Finch , Wellcome Trust Clinical Postdoctoral Fellow & European Veterinary Specialist in Small Animal Internal Medicine, University of Bristol, said:

“Firstly, I would like to strongly echo what the paper reports that to date, there are no confirmed cases of cats or dogs transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to people.

“I would agree with the paper that the risk of people being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 from companion animals is medium with a high level of uncertainty. The paper highlights the lack of available evidence to be able to fully evaluate the risk potential and the urgent need for studies to address the role of companion animals in COVID-19.

“The risk of companion animal exposure and onward spread of infection is likely to be species specific. There is evidence in experimental models of SARS-CoV-2 that cat-to-cat transmission can occur however, dog-to-dog transmission was not demonstrated. (Shi et al Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs and other domesticated animals to SARS-coronavirus 2. 2020. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.abb7015). This study is not included in the SAGE paper possibly because the date the risk assessment was performed was prior to publication of the study. Feral cats have also been implicated in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between mink farms in the Netherlands.

“There is limited government guidance for pet owners during COVID-19 (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-people-with-animals). More detailed advice for people with COVID-19 or who are self-isolating and how to care for their pets is available from the British Veterinary Association. The British Veterinary Association also has guidance on how owners can best look after themselves and their pets during the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak (https://www.bva.co.uk/coronavirus/coronavirus-advice-for-animal-owners/)

“Specific answers to the questions:

“What does tell us about the risk of pets catching COVID-19 from humans?

“The paper tells us that we are still uncertain regarding the risk of humans transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to pets. Based on available evidence regarding viral persistence on fomites and viral shedding from people, it is highly plausible that an infected person that has close contact with a pet could expose their pet to SARS-CoV-2. Whether the virus can actually infect cats and dogs is probably dependent on several factors such as viral dose and ACE-2 receptor structure. There are reports of pets testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 after contact with infected owners. The spectrum of clinical signs that infected pets may be display has not been well described.

“What does tell us about the risk of them passing it on to humans?

“The risk of pets transmitting virus to people is likely to be much less than the risk of people transmitting virus to pets. There are no reports of cats or dogs transmitting virus to people even in immunocompromised individuals. However, until more evidence becomes available the risk level is medium. This relates to the possibility of pets acting as fomites and the uncertainty reading viral shedding in pets.

“Should vulnerable people stop cuddling their pet dog or cat?

“The benefits that pets provide for the health and wellbeing of their owners is well documented. Any break in the human-animal bond is likely to impact both the pet and owner. Therefore given the lack of evidence for pet to human transmission, discontinuing normal contact such as cuddling is not recommended. There are guidelines available (see above) the most important of which is to wash hands after contact with pets or handling their faeces or urine. These will be particularly important in vulnerable people. It is probably also sensible to avoid pets licking the face of vulnerable people.”

 

Prof James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, and researcher in Infection dynamics and control of diseases, University of Cambridge, said:

“The paper is a formal qualitative, rather than quantitative, review of the evidence surrounding transmission of COVID19 to and from our pet animals. The paper reiterates what we know, which is that despite millions of people having had COVID19, the numbers of pets found to be ill or infected is still tiny. Put simply, our pet dogs and cats can catch COVID19 from us, when they are living with us, but only do on very rare occasions.

“The paper also looks into the risks of pets transmitting COVID19 to owners and finds (with justifications) that the risks of owners catching COVID19 because their pet dog or cat has it are very low. There are more ways that a dog or cat that has been in extended contact with a COVID19 patient could carry the virus on its coat into another situation, but in my view this scenario is very unlikely, particularly for dogs which tend to be less free roaming than cats.

“There is no reason for vulnerable people to stop cuddling their dog or cat. Everyone should maintain good hygienic standards with their pets and wash their hands across the day, as is generally advised, to avoid the risks of them contaminating themselves.”

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/risk-of-a-companion-animal-causing-onward-spread-of-sars-cov-2-virus-20-march-2020

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink: www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Conflicts of interest:

Prof James Wood: “I sit on DEFRA’s Science Advisory Council and chair its Exotic Disease sub-committee”

None others received 

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