The dog that tested positive for the new coronavirus probably got the virus from a person, experts said.
Tests detected low levels of the COVID-19 virus in the dog on Feb. 27 and subsequent tests conducted the next day and in early March also returned with weak positives.
Officials in Hong Kong, where the dog was quarantined, consulted with experts from the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences of the City University of Hong Kong, and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
The experts “unanimously agreed that these results suggest that the dog has a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission,” according to a press release from the government.
Officials are recommending that any pet animals, including dogs and cats, that live in households with people who test positive for COVID-19 be quarantined “to ensure public and animal health.”
A spokesman for Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said that pet owners should carry out good hygiene practices including washing their hands both before and after handling animals and not kissing their pets. The spokesman emphasized that there is currently no evidence that pets can be a source of COVID-19 or that they become sick.
“Apart from maintaining good hygiene practices, pet owners need not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets,” the spokesman said.
One other dog is in quarantine, officials said. That dog has tested negative for the virus but will be tested again before being released. The dog that repeatedly tested positive won’t be returned to its owner until it tests negative.
World Health Organization officials told reporters in Geneva on Thursday that they’re aware of the positive tests and are working with Hong Kong and international experts on the case.
Experts don’t think animal-to-human transmission is a major source of the virus spread, but the case of the dog “deserves much more study,” Maria Van Kerkove, one official said. Dr. Mike Ryan, another organization official, said that animals served as transient hosts for previous coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS.
Animals are not “intimately associated” with the spread of COVID-19, Ryan added.
The primary way the new illness spreads is from person to person, the World Organisation for Animal Health noted on its website.
“To date, there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick,” it said.
People shouldn’t take measures against companion animals “which may compromise their welfare,” the group said.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Hong Kong chapter also said in a statement that “there is no evidence that companion animals such as dogs and cats can be infected with the virus,” citing the World Health Organization.
The group stressed that the dog that repeatedly tested positive is showing no symptoms and that members were told it’s very healthy.
Being infected doesn’t mean a person or animal is infectious and capable of spreading the virus, the group said. Infected patients should consider limiting their contact with pet animals.