Pets

Researcher: Pet parents need not worry about getting coronavirus from furry family members

Posted April 28

— When a Chapel Hill family's pug tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Dr. Chris Woods was not surprised. Neither was he worried.

Woods, a professor in the departments of Medicine and Pathology at Duke University, is the lead researcher on a study of people who have tested positive for coronavirus. His work is to figure out how it impacts the body in order to develop treatments or vaccines.

The McLean family – mom, dad and son – all tested positive for the virus, too, and are participants in Woods' research. Their pug, Winston, was also tested after the family noticed he wasn't eating and had a strange cough.

"The fact that we detected it (in the family dog) is not all that surprising to me," Woods said.

But he says other families need not worry about catching coronavirus from a house pet.

"I don’t want people to be concerned about being infected by their pets," Woods said. While it’s not likely, animal experts say catching COVID-19 from a pet is not entirely out of the question.

Dr. Scott Weese, an animal infectious disease specialist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said research has shown cats can transmit the disease to other cats, so it's probable that they can transmit it to humans as well.

"The theoretical concern is that they can spread it cat to person if we have close contact with their face and their respiratory secretions," Weese said.

For humans, he said, "It’s probably got a greater risk from cats than dogs. Dogs seem to be fairly resistant to this virus. There have only been a few identified and not many tested.

Both experts agree: There is a much greater risk of coronavirus passing from person to person than to a person from a pet. To date, there are no documented cases of a person catching coronavirus from a pet.

Woods believes Winston caught it from one of his people. Both McLeans work in the medical field. Heather McLean is a pediatrician at Duke and her husband, Samuel, works in the emergency room at UNC Hospitals.

“(The dog) licks all of our dinner plates and sleeps in my mom’s bed, and we’re the ones who put our faces into his face. So, it makes sense that he got (coronavirus),” said Ben McLean. He, his mother and father all tested positive for the coronavirus. Only sister Sydney got a negative result.

The McLeans have four pets: two dogs, a cat and a lizard. The family said the dogs and cat were tested and only Winston tested positive.