Canadians who are sick with COVID-19 or suspect they have the virus are being warned to be careful around their pets and other animals.
"COVID-19 virus infections have become widely distributed in the human population. In some rare circumstances, some animals have become infected through close contact with infected humans," says a statement on the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association website.
The association points out that there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19 and that human outbreaks are driven by person-to-person contact.
But as a precautionary measure, it refers to recent recommendations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which say anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or those who are self-isolating due to contact with a COVID-19 case should follow similar recommendations around pets and livestock as they would around people.
That includes avoiding close contact with animals, good handwashing and avoiding coughing and sneezing on animals. It also means limiting your animal's contact with other people and animals outside the household, and if possible, have someone else in your home care for your animals.
"Scientists are still trying to understand if and how (COVID-19) affects animals. This is an area that continues to be studied," the CFIA website says, citing the World Organisation for Animal Health.
The organisation says on its website that evidence suggests COVID-19 emerged from an animal source, and that genetic sequence data shows it is a close relative of other coronaviruses in horseshoe bat populations.
But it says to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify the source or to explain the original route of transmission from an animal source to humans.
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"Currently, there is no evidence that companion animals are playing a significant epidemiological role in this human disease," the organization's website states.
"However, because animals and people can sometimes share diseases (known as zoonotic 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."
The Saskatchewan government said Sunday that anyone with COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals.
"If there is already an animal in the household, that animal should remain in isolation along with the patient," a provincial news release said.
The Bronx Zoo announced Sunday that one of its tigers tested positive for the new coronavirus. The four-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia — and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill — are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who wasn't yet showing symptoms, the zoo said.
Despite warnings to avoid animals, the CFIA notes that if you're not showing COVID-19 symptoms or self-isolating, taking walks with pets and spending time with them is still beneficial for both of you.
"Pets contribute to our overall happiness and well-being, especially in times of stress," the agency's website says.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2020.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press