Despite reports by the WHO, Humane Society and other organizations to the contrary, it does seem entirely possible for a canine to contract coronavirus. According to a local Chinese news report, on Monday, March 16, 2020, the first dog known to test positive for the coronavirus died in Hong Kong. The dog was a 17-year-old Pomeranian.
The South China Morning Post reported that the dog belonged to a woman 60 years of age who herself had just recovered from COVID-19. Previously, in February, the woman’s dog had tested “weak positive” for the novel coronavirus. The dog had just returned home on March 12 from a government quarantine when it died. While under quarantine, the dog was repeatedly tested for the coronavirus using a combination of blood, oral and nasal sampling. Before leaving that quarantine, the dog tested negative for the coronavirus on blood tests, though the virus could still have infected the dog without any apparent antibodies present in the dog’s system.
According to a Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) spokesperson, in mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 and coronavirus infection, antibodies don’t always develop. The spokesperson added that the owner refused an autopsy for her dog to more conclusively determine the cause of death.
Experts tracking the novel virus believe this case is the first known instance of a human transmitting the coronavirus to an animal. Prior to this event, the AFCD had publicly stated that it possessed no evidence that pets could either contract COVID-19 or pass the coronavirus on to people.
Just three days after the first canine coronavirus victim’s death, on March 19, 2020, the second Hong Kong canine tested positive for the coronavirus, another believed instance of human-to-animal coronavirus transmission. This dog, a two-year-old German Shepherd, is owned by a 30-year-old woman infected with COVID-19. A government facility currently has the dog under quarantine, while a mixed breed four-year-old from the same household that tested negative for the coronavirus is under lockdown. Unlike in the first reported instance of a dog contracting coronavirus in Hong Kong, neither this dog nor its owner was in the elderly high-risk category. Neither the infected dog nor the dog that tested negative showed any symptoms of COVID-19, and the dogs were kept in separate kennels.
A University of Hong Kong public health virologist, Professor Malik Peiris, explained that both of these cases represent likely instances of human-to-animal transmission of the coronavirus. An AFCD spokesperson noted that this instance of apparent human-to-animal transmission does not change the fact that no known evidence yet exists of COVID-19 transmission occurring the other way: from animal to human.
According to the Worldometer coronavirus tracker, there are, at the March 21, 2020 time of this writing, 284,712 cases of coronavirus in the world and 11,842 reported deaths from COVID-19. In China are 81,008 total cases and 3,255 total deaths, while in the United States, there are 19,775 cases and 276 total deaths.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong quarantine facility also had four cats under quarantine, though their coronavirus status is as yet unknown.