There is currently no evidence that the coronavirus spreading among humans can affect companion animals, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.
While a pomeranian dog who was living with an infected person in Hong Kong returned a weak positive test result to the virus, authorities suspect the animal may have had the Covid-19 virus, or virus fragments, in its nose and mouth from its unwell owner.
It did not mean the dog had the infection.
The animal has shown no signs of ill health.
“At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus,” the WHO says.
“However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.”
At this stage, authorities say there are no specific steps needed to protect pets from infection.
However, there is a risk they could end up with the virus on them if exposed to sick individuals, which means they have the potential to serve as a source of infection for other people, just as any object or surface with the virus might.
On that basis, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US suggests people who have the infection restrict contact with their pets, just as they would restrict contact with other people.
Those with the Covid-19 virus should avoid snuggling, being kissed or licked by their pet. They should not share food.
Those who do interact with their pet should wash their hands before and after, and wear a face mask.
“There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus,” the CDC said.
“Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with Covid-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
“When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick.”
College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign says experts at the World Health Organisation, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the CDC believe it is very unlikely that dogs can get the virus.
It says, in the case of the dog in Hong Kong, the virus was on the dog, just as there was likely coronavirus on the floor in the dwelling where the infected person lived. That did not mean the dog was infected or diseased.
Authorities in Hong Kong are monitoring animals for 14 days in households in which there are confirmed cases of Covid-19 as a precautionary measure.
Current research suggests that horseshoe bats are the reservoir species for the virus, and that it emerged from that species as well. Previous human coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS, originated in bats but first passed through other species, such as the palm civet and camels, before infecting humans.