KUALA LUMPUR: Pet owners in Malaysia have been asked not to be too alarmed about their pets being possible spreaders of the COVID-19 virus, and there was no need to subject the animals to coronavirus testing.

In a statement to address concerns on whether pets can transmit the virus to their owners, the Malaysian Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) said on Tuesday (Apr 7) that there were few COVID-19 cases involving pets so far. 

“Although human COVID-19 infections are high, the cases among pets are isolated as pets cannot be infected naturally. To date, the source of infection for animals is from humans,” it said. 

READ: ‘Theoretical possibility’ that COVID-19 can spread from pets to humans, says MOH

The DVS said that while pets can be infected with the coronavirus, it would only cause a mild infection on them. 

The viral load in the animals is also too low to be transmitted to humans, it added. 

The DVS also cited an excerpt from a report by the World Organisation for Animal Health, which stated further studies are underway to understand if and how different animals could be affected by the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: A man wears a protective face mask sitting next to his dogs, following the outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

The DVS’ statement was issued following Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah’s Monday Facebook post on pets and COVID-19 infections. He advised people to maintain good hygiene at all times, including when coming in contact with animals and pets.

On Monday, news broke that Nadia, a Malayan tiger and six other big cats at the Bronx Zoo in the United States, were infected with COVID-19 and showed minor symptoms, after coming into contact with an asymptomatic zookeeper. They were expected to make a full recovery, the zoo said.

Malayan tiger Nadia

This handout photo released by Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo on April 5, 2020 shows the Malayan tiger Nadia who tested positive for Covid-19. A tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo has tested positive for COVID-19, the institution said Sunday, and is believed to have contracted the virus from a caretaker who was asymptomatic at the time. (Photo: AFP/Wildlife Conservation Society/Julie Larsen Maher) 

There have been other isolated cases of pets infected by COVID-19 through their owners, such as two cases involving dogs in Hong Kong, and two cases with cats in Hong Kong and Belgium.

The DVS also advised pet owners who suspect themselves to be infected with COVID-19 to distance themselves from their pets. Pet owners should also maintain their personal hygiene, while ensuring their pets’ welfare, it added.

DON’T ABANDON PETS IN FEAR OF INFECTION: VET

Malaysia Small Animal Veterinary Association (MSAVA) president Gopinathan Gangadharan stressed that there was no known cases of pet-to-human transmission of COVID-19.

Speaking to CNA, he urged pet owners not to panic and abandon their animals in fear of being infected, as animal welfare is governed by law.

“If you are sick or in quarantine and can’t take care of the pet, you cannot just abandon the animal. 

“If possible, ask a trusted family member to help you until you’re well or consult your nearest veterinarian,” said Dr Gopinathan.

He added that currently in Malaysia, there are no veterinary clinic or private laboratory conducting tests for COVID-19 in animals.

Dogs wearing masks are seen at a main shopping area, in downtown Shanghai

Dogs wearing masks are seen at a main shopping area, in downtown Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

READ: Commentary – How did a dog catch COVID-19? Until we know more, pet owners should take preventive steps

Former Zoo Negara veterinarian Vellayan Subramaniam, who attends to exotic pets, said exotic pet owners should maintain proper hygiene, and be careful when handling animals such as hedgehogs, ferrets, civet cats and leopard cats.

He said in case of signs such as respiratory distress or diarrhoea, the owner of such exotic pets would need to contact a zoo or exotic animal veterinarian. 

Owners of petting zoos also needed to bear hygiene precautions in mind, Dr Vellayan added.

While Malaysians stay at home during the MCO period, pet owners are distanced from other humans, but not their pets, said Dr Gopinathan. 

“Pets, well fed and well managed with preventive healthcare, can heal our sorrow at this hard time. They give us peace, and add happiness to our lives,” he said.

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