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COVID-19: FAQs FOR VETERINARIANS AND VETERINARY CLINICS
Updated as of 3:00 PM Central Time, Wednesday, March 13, 2020
Below are answers to some questions we have received about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is caused by SARS-CoV-2. The AVMA has additional information and resources available on at avma.org/coronavirus. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.
Q: Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) has indicated that a pet dog whose owner had contracted COVID-19 had been tested for SARS-CoV-2 and that multiple tests over several days’ time had come back “weak positive.” Do you have more information and should we be worried for our pets or for ourselves?
A: The ACFD first collected samples from the pet dog, reportedly a 17-year-old Pomeranian, on February 26 and detected low levels of SARS-CoV-2 material in samples from its nasal and oral cavities on February 27, using a real time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR) test. The RT PCR test is sensitive, specific, and does not cross-react with other coronaviruses of dogs and cats. The ACFD repeated the test on February 28, March 2, and March 5 with continued “weak positive” results (nasal and oral sample, nasal sample, nasal sample, respectively). “Weak positive” suggests a small quantity of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the samples. It doesn’t distinguish whether the samples contain intact viruses, which are infectious, or only fragments of the RNA. To better understand what this finding means, additional testing has been, and continues to be, conducted.
Part of that testing is serology to see if the dog is mounting an immune response to the virus. An acute phase sample was negative, indicating there are currently not measurable amounts of antibodies to the virus in the dog’s blood. This does not mean the dog is not infected with the virus, because it is not uncommon to have a negative result in earlier stages of infection. It can take 14 days or more for measurable levels of antibodies to be detected. Hong Kong officials advised that a second “convalescent” phase sample will be obtained later for further testing. In addition, gene sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from the dog and its close human contacts has been done and the viral sequences are very similar.
Experts from the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences of the City University of Hong Kong believe the consistency and persistence of the results suggest the virus may have spread from the infected people to the dog in this particular case. Follow-up serology is pending.
Testing has been conducted by the laboratories of the AFCD and the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong. The latter is an accredited reference laboratory for the WHO for the testing of SARS-CoV-2.
This pet dog is one of two pet dogs under quarantine in separate rooms in a facility at the Hong Kong Port of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge; the second pet dog has had negative results of tests for the virus. The pet dogs are being cared for and neither has shown any signs of being ill with COVID-19.
In other testing, IDEXX announced on March 13 that it had evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens during validation of its new veterinary test system for the COVID-19 virus and had obtained no positive results.
Considering this information in total, infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets can spread COVID-19 to other