Can pet dogs or cats get coronavirus infection?

coronavirus, pet animal, PETA

Pet dogs and cats are not at risk of coronavirus infection, say experts. (Source: Getty Images)

Recent billboard advertisements in Mumbai featuring a dog and a bat, advising people "to avoid unprotected contact" to prevent spread of coronavirus received enough flak from animal rights activists. Arguing the advertisements were misleading, the activists reportedly wrote letters to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to pull down the billboards.

Busting myths about coronavirus, WHO had earlier said, "At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus."

According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been no "reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19." CDC said, "At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19."

Again, the American Veterinary Medical Association was quoted as saying, "At this time, experts have not expressed concern about transmission to or from animals. Multiple international health organisations have indicated that pets and other domestic animals are not considered at risk for contracting COVID-19."

"Just as the common cold doesn't spread between companion animals and humans, many other viral infections in humans don't find a host in dogs and cats at home or on the streets, as they have different cell receptors, thereby preventing human-borne viruses from causing an infection in them. During this time of crisis caused by the coronavirus, it is important that we as a society make all efforts to protect our companion and community animals from any potential abuse resulting from the spread of myths," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India CEO and veterinarian Dr Manilal Valliyate said in a statement.

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A pet dog belonging to an infected patient in Hong Kong was earlier reported to have "low level" coronavirus, giving rise to rumours about pets being susceptible too. Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, however, confirmed later that the pet may have been carrying the virus in the mouth and nose from contact with the infected owner but it showed no symptoms of clinical illness.

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How to keep pets safe

PETA also suggested some preventive tips for companion and community animals:

1. Never put any face masks on animals, as they can cause breathing difficulties.

2. Do not restrict the movement or activities of companion and community animals or do anything else that would compromise their overall welfare.

3. Best practices include making sure companion and community animals in your area are up to date on vaccinations, they receive annual veterinary check-ups, and preventive measures are taken to protect them from heartworm, fleas, and ticks.

4. People who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid close contact with animals and should have another member of their household care for animals so as not to get the virus on their fur.

5. To help an animal who's in immediate physical danger or in urgent need of veterinary care, you can call PETA India's emergency number 9820122602.