Since the very beginning of the pandemic, the university of Antwerp has been carrying out what it calls the Major Corona Study, to poll the population on their behaviour during and responses to the pandemic and the measures taken in Belgium as a result.
This week’s study – aside from the set of regular questions in place since the beginning – the study turns its attention to house pets. Recently, there have been five cases reported of house pets possibly infected with the virus.
“We’re pretty sure pets don’t play a big role in the spread, but we’re not ruling it out either,” said Professor Philippe Beutens of the university, who was behind the initiative of starting the study a year ago.
For people who answer Yes to the question whether they have house pets at home, the study asks, “Has your pet has been showing any of the following symptoms for the past two weeks: less activity or playfulness, more fatigue, less appetite, faster breathing, falling over/fainting, or none of these symptoms.”
“If the number of pet infections is increasing and remains important in the future, it is important that we start taking measurements now,” Prof Beutens said. “We know that pets are constantly passing on all kinds of things to each other.”
The arrival of the so-called British variant of the virus could play a role. In a study published in the journal Science last week, it was reported that five cases had emerged of dogs and cats suffering from myocarditis – an inflammation of the lining of the heart – which may have been caused by B.1.1.7, otherwise known as the British variant.
A veterinary hospital in London had remarked a huge leap in cases of myocarditis between December and February, from 1.4% of all cases to 12.8%. So they decided to test the animals, and found three of the seven tested were positive for B.1.1.7, while two of the others had previously been infected with the standard variant of the virus.
Prof Beutens, meanwhile, accepts that the evidence of a link with pets is not compelling, but considers the question worth asking in the study.
Pets, he said, “usually play a very small role in spreading infectious diseases. And we expect that to be the case now. We certainly don’t want people to be afraid of their own pets.”