By Peter Andrews – 3/4/2020
You’ve heard of animal-to-human coronavirus transmission, but how about the other way around? In a world first, a case has been reported of a dog possibly infected with coronavirus – who seems to have contracted it from its owner.
Initial reports of a possible canine case of coronavirus began to emerge from Hong Kong last week, and at that point it was announced that the dog in question would be quarantined for a fortnight. Swab tests from the pet’s oral and nasal cavities were tested and turned up a “weak positive” for coronavirus. Thankfully, almost a week after first testing positive, the dog is reported as not yet having any symptoms.
Why the pooch was tested in the first place was not clear, although it was doubtful part of a routine medical check-up. It could be that some clinics are making sure to test all household pets of infected people so as to ensure the virus has as little mechanism to move about as possible. Alternatively, it could be that this dog is the first pet to be tested, and were others to be subjected to the same scrutiny it could transpire that more pets of infected people are also carriers of the disease.
Much of the early reportage on the outbreak focused on the seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, which Chinese officials had declared was the likeliest source of the outbreak. That seemed to imply that the virus had an animal origin, as live poultry, fish and other critters were reportedly present at the market.
As such, the initial panicked response to the outbreak was to obsess over the potential source of the virus. Exactly what kind of animals were at this market, and were they alive and kicking, or dead to be sold as meat?
Animals as a source seemed, and still seems, a plausible view. Sars is one other virus, and closely related to 2019-nCoV, to have previously resided in beasts before making the leap to humans, and it was eventually traced back to a horseshoe bat colony in China.
And bats, of course, became the most inculpated source for the new disease. Who could forget those now-viral images and videos from Wuhan of people tucking into soup that looked like something from an HP Lovecraft novel? While it later emerged that the images were a few years old, it set people’s minds to feverishly imagining what lethal zoological combo could have spawned the plague that has now infected tens of thousands of people worldwide.
Quite early on, Chinese scientists published a genetic study claiming that snakes were the most likely animal ‘reservoir’ for Covid-19. Pangolins were also mentioned, although traditional Chinese medicine’s unique relationship with wildlife meant that, for some, practically everything was on the table.
An innocent victim
It is important to remember that the dog in the case mentioned received the virus from its owner, and not the other way around. Commenting on the case, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) pointed out that it does not currently have conclusive evidence that pets can be infected “or can be a source of infection to people.”
Therefore, animal health experts say that there is absolutely no reason to hide from your pet, or to keep it indoors. You’re probably much more likely to contract the virus from another person – no matter where in the world you are.
While the dog remains under investigation, and it is not definite whether or not it has the coronavirus, it – like its owner – has been quarantined. Hopefully the dog, and its owner, make a full recovery, and the virus does not spread to more animals. But the prospect of the virus crossing the species barrier does not bode well for anyone.