WHO says pets are generally safe from being infected with coronavirus

It’s safe to walk your dog.
It’s safe to walk your dog.
Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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Update (March 13): The WHO now says that pets can get infected, but there is no evidence that pets can spread the disease or that the disease can cause an animal to fall ill. Further studies may bring new findings, it says.

A relief to pet owners: there’s no evidence that companion animals such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus as of now, according to the World Health Organization.

Like previous SARS viruses, Covid-19 transmits primarily through droplets of coughing, sneezing, saliva, or discharge from the nose. While pets generate droplets quite easily, there are significant barriers for the virus to jump from humans to animals, and vice versa. In rare situations, when a pet carries the virus, it’s unlikely that it would spread to a person.

Knowing the science about how the virus transmits could help combat the abundance of misinformation amid the epidemic. Just a month ago when the daily death toll reached its peak in China, local officials of a village in Zhejiang province asked all residents to quarantine animals and slaughtered all stray dogs on the street(link in Chinese). Another village in China made a similar rule (link in Chinese) at the end of January to kill animals to contain the spread of the virus.

As more people start exercising social distancing and working from home, more frequent contact with your dog, cat or another pet is inevitable. WHO advises washing your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. It’s the pet owners, rather than pets, that have a higher risk of spreading the virus.