Cat and dog owners may want to take extra precautions during the coronavirus outbreak amid new reports linking infected pets to their humans.
The first episode of a cat becoming infected with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, was reported last Friday in Belgium, where the animal began showing symptoms — including respiratory trouble, vomiting and diarrhea — about a week after its human did, according to the Brussels Times.
Steven Van Gucht, the top virologist at Belgian’s national institute for public and animal health, stressed that this is “an isolated case,” and that there are “no indications” that human-to-animal transmission is common, the Brussels Times reports.
With nearly 858,000 confirmed cases in humans worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, those involving animals appear to be exceedingly rare.
A second case involving a cat testing positive for the coronavirus was reported Tuesday in Hong Kong, where the only other two confirmed cases involving pets — a Pomerian and a German shepherd — were previously documented, according to the Reuters news agency. That cat also became infected not long after its human tested positive, though the animal has not yet shown symptoms.
So far, there’s no evidence that cats and dogs can pass the virus onto humans.
Still, veterinarians have cautioned that such transmission could be possible and have urged those who test positive for the coronavirus to limit their contact with pets to avoid passing on the virus or leaving it in their fur.
“Anyone with symptoms, don’t hug or kiss your dog,” Ai Takeuchi, veterinarian at Lucerne Veterinary Hospital, told the BDN last month. “Don’t snuggle with them because you could potentially put the virus on their coat.”
A new study also suggests that pets may be able to spread the virus to one another. In the paper, researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China said that cats that become infected with the coronavirus can pass it onto other cats, while preliminary tests suggest the risk is lower for dogs.
Those results were based on tests in which the researchers infected cats, ferrets and other animals that commonly come into contact with humans and placed them in cages adjacent to uninfected animals.
Animal lovers, though, need not panic over the results, according to virologist Linda Saif of the Ohio State University, who told the journal Nature that the method of the study doesn’t mirror real-life interactions between pets and their humans. Of the three cats exposed to the infected animals, only one ended up catching the virus.
“This suggests the virus may not be highly transmissible in cats,” Saif told Nature.
Watch: How does COVID-19 spread?