Study finds that pets are at risk of covid infection from their owners, not the other way around

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Moohita Kaur GargUpdated: Jul 10, 2021, 11:52 PM IST


Story highlights

A majority of animals infected by Covid show minimal to no symptoms

A study by researchers from Utrecht University finds that Covid is common in pet cats and dogs whose owners are infected by the disease.

Pets in 196 households where an infection was present were swabbed for traces of infection.

A PCR test revealed six positive results for cats and seven for dogs, and 54 animals were found to have antibodies for the virus.

Dr Els Broens from Utrecht University advised that people with Covid should avoid contact with their cats or dogs.

The reason behind this advice lies in the uncertainty of whether pets can transmit the virus or not. While the authors of this study found no evidence of pet to human interaction, they say that detection would be difficult especially when human to human transmission is so swift. 

Covid tends to cause mild to no symptoms in most animals infected with it.

As part of the research a mobile veterinary clinic was sent to Netherland households where in the last 200 days, someone had tested positive for Covid. 

There they took blood samples to test for antibodies that could suggest past exposure to Covid, as well as swabs of the pet cats and dogs to test for current infection.

Results which were then presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases showed that around 4.2 per cent of the pets had a current infection, while 17.4 per cent tested positive for antibodies. 

PCR (polymerase chain reaction)-positive animals were subsequently tested and showed that antibodies were formed.

According to the researchers, the most likely route for transmission of viruses is from humans to animals, but that they can't say that vice versa is zero per cent possible. 

Many animals in Russia are being vaccinated against the disease by veterinarians. However, Dr Broens believes that to be unnecessary, as for now there is no evidence supporting the need for it. 

Study No. 2

In a separate study, researchers from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, found cats sleeping on their owners' beds appeared particularly susceptible to infection.

The owners of 48 cats and 54 dogs from 77 households were interviewed to learn about their interaction with their pets, and the animal immune systems were tested for Covid antibodies.

67 per cent of pet cats and 43 per cent of pet dogs tested positive for Covid, while merely 9 per cent of cats and dogs from an animal shelter and 3 per cent of stray cats tested positive. 

Twenty-five per cent of the pets exhibited symptoms, ranging from loss of appetite to difficulty breathing. Despite most cases being mild, three were severe.

The researchers suggest that the biology of cats may make them more susceptible to Covid infection.

Additionally, as cats are more likely than dogs to sleep near their owners' faces, they are at higher risk of catching an infection from their owner's breath.

'Robustly conducted'

Professor James Wood, the head of the veterinary medicine department at Cambridge University, said the two studies provide further indications that cats and dogs may contract the disease from their owners.

He also noted that the Dutch study was robustly conducted and demonstrated that even though 20 per cent of exposed pets may be infected, they eventually clear the infection just like most humans do.