Pets of owners with Covid-19 can get infected too, research shows
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Pets of owners with Covid-19 can get infected too, research shows

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Pets, such as cats and dogs, whose owners are infected with the coronavirus, can also get Covid-19, research by the Dutch University of Utrecht shows.

The researchers tested 310 pets from 196 households in which a human coronavirus infection had been detected: six cats and seven dogs tested positive, and 54 pets had antibodies against the virus, indicating previous infection.

“We saw that about 20% of the animals were infected,” said veterinary microbiologist Els Broens, who researched the project. “As a precaution, we advise people with Covid to avoid direct contact with their cat or dog, just as you would with other people in the family.”

Pets with a Covid-19 infection do not become very ill, and most infected pets show no symptoms, or only mild ones, according to the research. “The main concern is therefore not the health of the animals, but the potential risk that pets could serve as a reservoir for the virus, and reintroduce it into the human population.”

The researchers were afraid that animals might play a role in the spread, but the initial results of the study show that this does not seem to be the case, according to Broens.

“The animals that tested positive left the virus behind quite quickly, and there is no indication that the virus continues to circulate among our pets. So the results are reassuring.”

Testing pets for Covid-19 “partly” works the same way as testing humans with a PCR test, but the researchers did not use nasal swabs, as “that is very difficult with animals, especially in cats,” she explained in an interview with De Morgen.

“We tested the animals with two swaps: one in the back of the throat and a rectal swap, in the anus,” Broens said. “Additionally, blood was taken to see if they had any antibodies in their blood.”

“We saw large and small animals, pedigree cats and mixes. Some families were in quarantine and handed us the dog or cat at the door,” she said, adding that the researchers wore gloves, splash guards, protective jackets and face masks, as they did not know if the animals were infected and whether they might be a source of infection.

“We also looked at animals that had had no contact with other animals that had tested positive, and they did not have it,” she added. “So we could conclude that the virus passes from humans to animals.”

However, she also pointed out that the research does not show whether pets might be susceptible to new variants, such as the more infectious Delta strain.

The research is part of a larger research project with several partners, called ‘Fighting COVID-19 in animals and humans, a one health approach,‘ which was commissioned by the Dutch government.

However, the study has not been peer-reviewed, and is therefore not yet available online. The first research results will be presented on 9 July at a scientific congress The European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID).