With coronavirus infection rates still surging in many parts of the world, pet owners are understandably concerned.
Vets have reassured that there is no need for great concern - but they have urged taking some precautions.
The RSPCA told the Standard that people should be taking extra hygiene measures, especially around cats.
It comes after several cases of tigers and cats testing positive for Covid-19.
Can pets catch coronavirus?
A 17-year-old dog and a cat in Hong Kong were reportedly diagnosed after being infected by their owners, and one cat was infected in Belgium last month.
But even those few animals who have tested positive “are not becoming sick,” according to Dr Angel Almendros, an expert at City University in Hong Kong.
He added: "As in the previous Sars-Cov outbreak in Hong Kong, in 2003, where a number of pets were infected but never became sick, there is no evidence that dogs or cats could become sick or infect people."
The one exception was when Nadia, a tiger at Bronx Zoo, New York City, became infected from an asymptomatic zoo keeper on April 5, along with six other tigers and lions who have fallen ill.
"This is the first time that any of us know of anywhere in the world that a person infected the animal and the animal got sick," Paul Calle, the chief veterinarian at the zoo, told Reuters news agency on Sunday.
The Belgium case was thought to be human-to-animal transmission, which Cats Protection said was possibly a world first and “extremely rare”.
Dr Sarah Caddy, veterinary scientist and research fellow at Cambridge University, wrote in The Conversation that tests on the cat in Belgium for Covid-19 found the viral genome in its vomit and its faeces.
"Many people are asking if the coronavirus detected in the cat really is [Covid-19] or whether it could be the completely different cat-only coronavirus, which has been infecting cats worldwide for decades. It is possible that the cat ate contaminated food and the virus simply passed through its gut.”
Dr Samantha Gaines, head of the RSPCA's companion animals department, told the Standard: “Even in cases where people have passed the virus to other animals, the risk is incredibly small, especially when we think about the number of cats and dogs we share our homes with: 17% of UK households share their homes with 7.5million cats and 25 per cent with 12million dogs.”
What is the risk to me?
But the more important question is whether pets can infect humans.
There have been a number of false rumours circulating online since reports that the pandemic began with transmission from pangolins to humans at a ‘wet’ wildlife market in Wuhan, China.
Daniella Dos Santos, president of the British Veterinary Association, stressed that “owners should not worry” about becoming infected by pets and that there is “no evidence that pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners”.
However, experts have warned that the virus can survive on surfaces for several days.
Dr Gaines of the RSPCA told the Standard: “Like human hands, pet fur could carry the virus and so it is important to adopt good hygiene when interacting with our pets, especially if they could have been in contact with other people.”
What precautions can I take?
The RSPCA said the situation is “evolving and at pace” and urged cat owners to thoroughly wash their hands after touching pets and avoid being kissed or licked and sharing food with them. They should also avoid touching animals outside their home.
The charity also said it is “advisable” that cats remain indoors, but not against their will as this could lead to serious health issues.
The British Veterinary Association said that as a precaution, "for pet owners who have Covid-19 or who are self-isolating we are recommending that you keep your cat indoors if possible, during that time,” to avoid spreading it to other households.
Professor Ken Smith, professor of companion animal pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, added: “The key messaging for cat owners, and others responsible for the health and welfare of animals under their care (including in this case zookeepers) concerned to avoid spread of infection from humans to animals is that contact between infected people and other animals should be minimised.”