University of Calgary researchers study risk of COVID-19 transmission from humans to pets

Dog looking shaggy? How to groom pets safely at home. Getty Images

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, infectious disease specialists with the University of Calgary are researching the possibility of people transmitting the virus to their pets.

After a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the novel coronavirus on April 5, it’s a question that’s been on the minds of many. Now, researchers at the university have created a new task force to determine if certain pets are more likely than others to contract the virus.

After reviewing the limited information available on the topic — along with past and current research on other coronaviruses — a clinical instructor with the university’s faculty of veterinary medicine, Dr. Rebecca Archer, said transmission from domesticated animals has, so far, proven to be unlikely.

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“What we’ve learned is that although the virus likely originated in a wild animal host, the virus adapted to transmit easily from human-to-human,” Archer said.

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“There is no evidence of cats, dogs, or other domestic animals infecting people.”

Click to play video: 'People encouraged to consider long-term impacts of adopting pets during pandemic'
People encouraged to consider long-term impacts of adopting pets during pandemic

Archer added that while human-to-human contact is the main driving force behind the spread, research also suggests some animals may be more susceptible to contracting the virus than others.

“Our current knowledge, based on research and case reports to date, indicates dogs aren’t easily infected — while cats, ferrets, and hamsters are more susceptible to the virus,” Archer said.

“But keep in mind, in these more susceptible species the infection is usually mild and the animals recover. While many pets have been tested, only two cats, two dogs, and one tiger — all with known exposure to people with COVID-19 — have proved to be positive.”

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The new task force is also offering tips on how to keep pets safe amid the pandemic, Archer said.

Those tips include physically distancing from animals as you would humans whilst infected, and practicing safety precautions such as sneezing and coughing into your arm to limit the spread of germs.

“We also recommend washing your hands before and after handling their food, food bowls and pet other supplies,” she added.

“I want to emphasize that you do not need to give your pet up for adoption if you have COVID-19. Animals can be a great comfort during these stressful times and provide us with many health benefits.”

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