This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Last week, in Hong Kong, a pet dog belonging to a coronavirus patient tested “weak positive” to the disease, with health officials confirming the animal has a “low-level infection” from what is likely the first reported case of human-to-animal transmission.
Now, this week in Sydney, pet owners have been approaching vets and asking for their dogs to be euthanised, amid fears that they might be at risk of catching the virus via animal-to-human transmission. Dr Sam Kovac, owner of Southern Cross Veterinary—which has clinics both in Sydney’s Inner West and its Eastern Suburbs—told Nine News it was "harrowing" to be receiving calls from people asking for their pets to be put down.
"We didn't put any of the pets down but instead consulted with them and explained there is no evidence the virus is in the Australian dog population and no evidence that dogs can give it back to people," he said—while admitting it’s “theoretically possible” that coronavirus could become a pandemic in dogs, although there’s no effective way of diagnosing the disease in Australia. For pet owners who are particularly concerned, there is a safe vaccine available that protects against dog coronavirus—although it doesn't offer protection to humans.
"The trouble in Australia is there is no validated test for COVID19 in dogs yet… there is no reliable way to diagnose it,” Dr Kovak said. “[But] there really is not enough information to say that coronavirus in pets is a public health risk right now. I think we should be concerned but not alarmed."
This sudden uptick in euthanasia enquiries follows reports of a “pet crisis” in China, as paranoid owners around the country abandon their cats and dogs for fear of catching coronavirus—and animal shelters struggle to cope with the influx. It bears repeating here that a number of medical experts and authorities, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), have stressed "there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus."
WHO adds, however, that “it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.”
For those thinking of taking slightly more drastic measures, Dr Kovac offered some stern advice.
"Absolutely do not consider euthanasia as an option, you'd be mad,” he said. “If you're considering making the call or signing the form to euthanise your pet, you have no right to own a pet.”