Pets can also become infected with the new coronavirus Europe | DW

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Italian researchers tested 540 dogs and 277 cats in households where people had tested positive for COVID-19, or in areas severely affected by the pandemic, such as Lombardy. The scientists detected antibodies against the virus in 3.4% of dogs and 3.9% of cats.

Studies on a relatively large number of animals confirm the premise that pets can be infected by humans with SARS-CoV-2, but vice versa is very unlikely. Tests taken from the mouth, nose and throat tested negative in all animals. Cats and dogs were tested between March and May 2020.

Pets do not spread the virus

Researchers say this extensive study is very useful. According to Thomas Mettenleiter, president of the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute (FLI) in Greifswald, the results are not surprising: “Confirm what we already know.” However, a study with such a large number of pets is welcome. “Samples are not easy to obtain.”

Healthy people should not restrict contact with pets

The study therefore confirms the FLI researchers’ assumption that dogs or cats have not yet played a role in the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The decisive factor is the transmission from person to person. “We start from the premise that the virus is usually transmitted from humans to animals,” says Mettenleiter. Therefore, FLI considers that healthy people have no reason to restrict contact with their pets. On the other hand, patients infected with coronavirus should avoid contact with pets in order not to infect them.

Animals do not die from coronavirus infection

So far, Mettenleiter claims, there is no evidence that the animals could die from coronavirus infection. Even if pets contract the virus, it does not automatically mean that it can spread to animals and then spread through nasal, coughing or fecal secretions.

In addition, researchers at FLI have found that there is currently no evidence to confirm that pigs, chickens and other farm animals can be infected with SARS-CoV-2. The institute is currently conducting experiments with several animal species. According to initial results, ferrets and fruit bats are susceptible to the virus, but chickens and pigs are not. Cattle studies are still in their infancy.

Outbreaks of coronavirus on farms

Scientists are also investigating how the virus reached mink farms in the Netherlands and Spain, infecting almost all the animals kept there – that is, whether farm staff infected the animals or vice versa.

Cage with minks (Getty Images / Y. Tutov)

Precautionary measure in mink farms in the Netherlands: over one million animals have been killed

The outbreak of coronavirus on mink farms near the Spanish town of La Puebla de Valverde, a village of 500 inhabitants in the northwestern region of Aragon, was discovered after 14 employees tested positive for the new coronavirus in late May. Two other employees became infected after the farm was closed.

Outbreaks in the Netherlands began in April. During the examinations, veterinary professor Wim van der Poel, from the University of Wagingen, found that the virus strain found in minks is similar to that circulating in humans.

“I suspected it could be transferred to humans (from animals),” van der Poel said. Which happened to at least two farm employees.

Authorities killed more than a million minks

As a precautionary measure following the outbreak, the Spanish authorities ordered the killing of more than 92,000 minks on the farm. 90 percent were infected with the new coronavirus.

In the Netherlands alone, more than 1.1 million minks, to which the virus has spread, have been killed, the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Agency said.

There are about 160 mink farms in the Netherlands. The country is the fourth largest fur producer in the world, after Denmark, China and Poland. Spain has 38 mink farms, most of them in Galicia.

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