There are still many unknowns surrounding the coronavirus, the mysterious illness that originated in Wuhan, China that has killed at least 1,000 and continues to spread around the world.
One unanswered question is whether the virus can be passed on through animals, including pets.
Scott Weese, a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College, tells Yahoo Canada News that despite not having concrete answers about how the coronavirus affects animals, using extra caution is the safest best.
“The general line we’re trying to get across is that if we don’t know, we should assume there’s risk to various species as opposed to trying to do damage control later,” he says. “In the absence of evidence, we want to assume there’s some risk.”
The concern traces back to SARS, another coronavirus from 2002 and 2003 that killed 774 people worldwide. The origin of the respiratory disease was eventually traced back to cave-dwelling bats in Yunnan province. The bats spread it to civet cats, which then spread it to humans through wildlife markets in Asia.
However, Weese says there isn’t much research into whether the virus was able to spread through domestic animals. If that were to happen with the current coronavirus, the consequences could be grave.
“What we don’t want to happen is to have this virus establish in the domestic animal population to create another reservoir for it,” Weese says.
When it comes to stopping the spread from humans to pets, Weese says it’s a matter of common sense. North America has seen a limited number of cases of the current coronavirus, which the World Health Organization formally named Covid-19.
“Essentially what it comes down to is managing infected people, by keeping them away from other people, and keeping them away from animals,” Weese says.
If a person who is infected comes in contact with his or her family and pets, that means the family and the pets would have to be quarantined.
“If someone is infected, and quarantined, they should stay away from their animals too,” he says. “We don’t want someone staying in the basement of their house, quarantined from their family, with their dog and cat running back and forth between the two.”
If you want to protect your pets from contracting illnesses:
Avoid direct contact with them;
Wash your hands regularly;
Don’t let the animals come close to your face, or allow them to lick you.
If you’re unsure whether your pet is well, be sure to speak to your veterinarian. It’s important for domestic animals to go in for routine check-ups and to make sure vaccines are up to date.