The first dog in the world to test positive for the coronavirus has died in Hong Kong, according to a report by South China Morning Post.
The 17-year-old Pomeranian, whose owner is a recovered COVID-19 patient, passed away two days after it was released from quarantine. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) said in a statement: “The department learned from the dog’s owner that it had passed away on March 16.”
The dog had undergone a mandatory quarantine since February 26 and had been continually tested for the virus. Initially, “a total of five tests from its nasal and oral samples all returned ‘weak positive’ results.” However, previous serologic tests (a type of blood test that searches for antibodies) yielded negative results, prompting officials to finally allow its return to its owner last Saturday, March 14.
Still, local authorities stressed that while the asymptomatic dog showed no antibodies specific to the coronavirus in its system, it did not necessarily mean that it was not infected with the disease. “It is known in some asymptomatic or mild cases of human infections with other types of coronavirus that antibodies may not always develop,” the department clarified.
According to the AFCD, the dog’s owner—a 60-year-old woman who herself recently recovered from the coronavirus—has refused the department’s request to conduct an autopsy.
The dog was the first reported case of human-to-animal COVID-19 transmission, as local experts believe that its owner was the source of infection and passed on “low levels” of the virus to the Pom.
In another report by Forbes, medical sources suggest that "the dog likely did not die from the illness" and that the cause of death simply could have been due to its old age. It said, "The dog, which outlived a Pomeranian’s 16-year life expectancy and had underlying health issues, probably did not die from the virus."
Meanwhile, a two-year-old German Sheperd, owned by a 30-year-old woman diagnosed with COVID-19 in Hong Kong, has also reportedly contracted the coronavirus, making it the second likely case of human-to-animal transmission. "It is very likely that the two positive cases [in Hong Kong] are examples of human-to-dog transmission,” Professor Malik Peiris, a public health virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said in a report from New York Post, contradicting a statement that was made earlier by the World Health Organization (WHO) that says pets are unlikely to be infected with COVID-19. The organization has since revised their stance on this.
While cases on human-to-animal transmission have been reported, WHO states there is no evidence that a pet can transmit COVID-19. It says on their official website:
"While there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly.
"WHO continues to monitor the latest research on this and other COVID-19 topics and will update as new findings are available."
The World Organization for Animal Health, on the other hand, advises limiting contact with pets until more information has been confirmed. “Because animals and people can sometimes share diseases... it is still recommended that people who are sick with COVID-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus.”
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