The dog had been in quarantine for weeks and had been declared virus-free before it was allowed to return home.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had said until March 12 that there was no evidence that dogs and cats could get infected by the novel virus. However, they changed their stance after a dog in Hong Kong was found to be infected. The WHO told Quartz in an email that "currently, there is no evidence that pets such as dogs and cats have infected humans with Covid-19."
The first dog that was infected was in a home with its owner, who was tested to be positive. The 17-year-old Pomeranian was under mandatory quarantine at a government facility since February 26 and had gone home on March 14 after it was virus-free. However, the owner informed the authorities that it died on March 16.
A spokesman for the city’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) told South China Morning Post, "The department learned from the dog’s owner that it had passed away on March 16. The owner said she was not willing to [allow] an autopsy to examine the cause of death."
Multiple health organizations including the @CDCgov , @WHO, @AVMAvets have stated that pets and domestic animals are not at risk for contracting or spreading COVID-19. It's still recommended, if you test positive for COVD-19, to wash your hands before and after handling your pet. pic.twitter.com/qSmzNbUqdt— Best Friends (@bestfriends) March 13, 2020
The dog had been tested a total of five times from its nasal and oral samples and all gave "weak positive" results for the virus. The dog did not exhibit any specific clinical signs, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health. Two tests, carried out on March 12 and 13, showed that the dog's samples were negative and only then the dog was allowed to leave quarantine and go back home. No antibodies specific to the virus were found in its system.
The owner, a 60-year-old woman, had been infected and was in the hospital from February 25. She had gotten better and returned home on March 8. Some people close to the woman had also tested positive.
The World Organisation for Animal Health also said that "mammalian pets from households with confirmed human cases of COVID-19 will be placed under quarantine and veterinary surveillance for 14 days."
The College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, added their opinion on the case when they said that the dog may have died of other causes and it had tested positive since it was in the presence of a human with the virus. "It is possible that a person with COVID-19 could sneeze or otherwise contaminate their pet, and then another individual could touch that animal and contract the disease," the university added. However, the risk of contamination is low.
Meanwhile, pet owners have been advised that if they are infected or have chances of being infected they should avoid close contact with their pets. They have especially been prohibited from kissing their pet after a second dog, a German Shepherd, tested positive in Hong Kong. The dog was found in a house where a human also tested positive for the virus. Another dog, a mixed-breed, from the same residence, was also sent to quarantine but showed no signs, as per Marketwatch. Neither dog has shown any signs of disease, as per the AFCD.
However, this has sparked fears among people and many are abandoning their pets, something authorities are recommending against. "Under no circumstances, should [owners] abandon their pets,” the Hong Kong animal-welfare authority stressed. However, while caring for pets, it is recommended that they ask other members in the household to care for the animals. And, if that is not possible then maintain good hygiene, like washing hands for 40-60 seconds, and wear a face mask, if possible.
Disclaimer: Information about COVID-19 is swiftly changing, and WomenWorking is committed to providing the most recent and verified updates in our articles and reportage. However, considering the frequency in developments, some of the information/data in this article may have changed since the time of publication. Therefore, we encourage you to also regularly check online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization.