Ontario researchers studying why COVID-19 can infect some pets and not others
Published Friday, May 1, 2020 3:51PM EDT Last Updated Friday, May 1, 2020 4:04PM EDT
KITCHENER -- A group of Ontario researchers is looking for volunteers to help them find out why some pets get infected with COVID-19 while others don't.
The researchers are from the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College.
The study is one of the first of its kind, the university says in a news release, and examines the risk that COVID-19 in humans poses to our furry companions.
They're looking for households that have had symptoms or a positive test of COVID-19, and who have cats, dogs or ferrets.
"We're trying to understand how often human-to-animal spread happens," explains Prof. Scott Weese, who is with the Department of Pathobiology, in a news release.
"We already know it can happen; we've seen it in various instances. Now, we're trying to find how common it is."
These transmissions, Weese notes, are rare but can happen.
He and Prof. Dorothee Bienzle are two of the researchers involved in the study.
The study will look into what factors contribute to putting animals at risk of becoming infected.
A news release notes that at least two dogs in Hong Kong and one in the U.S., two tigers and a lion in New York, and cats and minks in Europe have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
"We know that cats can get sick with this virus, but we don’t know how commonly that occurs,” Weese says in the release.
"Dogs seem less likely to get sick but we don’t know if that’s because they get infected less often, or, because they don’t get sick when they are infected. That’s why we’re doing this study, so we can understand this better."
Ferrets are also included in the study because they are highly susceptible to respiratory viruses.
Weese says that almost a dozen pets had been sampled as of Wednesday, but they hope to test dozens more.
If pets meet the necessary criteria, a news release explains that a researcher from the veterinary college will visit the household to collect nasal, throat and rectal swab samples. They will also swab the fur where pets are most likely to be in petted.
Experts say that it's possible that animals' fur can carry the virus, meaning it is important for animals to observe physical distancing, too.