This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
The belief that the coronavirus originated from bats, coupled with headlines that some animals have contracted COVID-19, appear to have fueled fears that keeping a pet is now a health risk. In Indonesia, netizens have been tweeting about being forced to abandon their pets or voluntarily giving them up.
“How do I convince my parents that cats can’t spread the coronavirus? They’re going to throw out all my cats,” one Twitter user wrote. “Yesterday, some people in my neighbourhood threw my cat out because of COVID-19 fears. I couldn’t do anything because I was out of town,” another user tweeted.
The Natha Satwa Foundation (NSN), an Indonesian animal rights group, has reported a spike in the number of abandoned pets in Indonesia since the outbreak.
While most abandon their pets for financial reasons, a survey the NSN conducted showed that about 9 percent of people do so because of coronavirus fears, NSN Director Anisa Ratna Kurnia told VICE.
To address this 9 percent, the NSN has hosted live Q&A sessions with veterinarians on Instagram Live.
“Sometimes it’s the parents or a neighbour who believe the rumour that animals are a health risk during the pandemic. We’re trying to say that animals can test positive for the virus, but that’s it. They cannot spread it to humans or other animals,” Kurnia said.
Anggodaka, Publication and Community Manager at Animal Friends Jogja (AFJ), said that more animals have been abandoned since the pandemic began. This could be out of fear of contracting the virus or simply financial issues, Anggondaka said.
“Abandoning animals is not a viable preventative strategy to avoid the coronavirus, but is rather a form of abuse. There is currently no scientific evidence that humans can pass the disease onto animals,” Anggodaka told VICE.
So far, there is no conclusive evidence that pets can spread the coronavirus to humans. Scientists have made conflicting statements on the matter since the start of the pandemic.
Habyb Palyoga, a veterinarian active on Twitter, believes that animals cannot contract the virus at all. An animal might test positive for COVID-19, he said, when a throat or anal swab detects the virus. However, the virus may have gotten there simply due to the animal’s close proximity with an infected human, and that the animal itself did not contract the virus.
The contending theory, which is based on a Chinese study that has not yet been peer-reviewed, assumes that animals can also contract COVID-19. The study concluded that cats and civets were the most vulnerable animals, and that the spread occurs through droplets as in humans.
Still, there is no definite proof that animals can spread the disease to humans.
“There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever — worldwide, period, at all — that shows that cats can give the infection to people,” Samantha Sander from the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory said. “There is some suggestion, very preliminarily, that we potentially could give the infection to a cat, and potentially ferrets also.”
Scientists are still trying to figure out how a New York tiger named Nadia tested positive for COVID-19 at a Bronx Zoo. For now, the best precautionary measure is to not let pets wander outside the home. If they manage to get out, just give them a bath.
This article originally appeared on VICE ID.