South Korea to 'give free COVID tests to cats and dogs' as owners told to quarantine infected pets

Ross McGuinness
·4-min read
South Korean Christians wearing protective face masks sit with a dog during a drive-in worship service following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Seoul, South Korea, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Pet owners in South Korea can access free coronavirus tests for their cats and dogs. (Reuters)

Cats and dogs in the capital of South Korea are to be offered free coronavirus tests, it has been reported.

Pet owners in Seoul can request a COVID-19 test for their animal if it comes into contact with infected humans and show symptoms, according to the AP news agency.

A city official also said that pets that test positive for coronavirus must be quarantined for 14 days in their owners’ homes or at an animal facility.

Seoul official Park Yoo-mi told an online briefing that the city is ready to conduct free testing of pets from Monday.

Last week, South Korea’s government published guidelines for COVID-19 testing of pets after a cat in the city of Jinju became the country’s first confirmed animal case of coronavirus.

The cat belonged to a mother and daughter who were among dozens of people at a religious facility who tested positive.

Officials in Seoul said there is no evidence that animals transmit the virus to humans, but that they will test pets. Other areas of the country are expected to follow the capital’s lead.

Last July, a pet cat in the UK tested positive for coronavirus, in the first confirmed case in the country of an animal being infected.

At the time, the government said the cat was thought to have been infected by its owners. The animal and its owners made a full recovery.

The government said: “There is no evidence to suggest that the animal was involved in transmission of the disease to its owners or that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the virus to people.”

In its official guidance, the government says: “It is rare for an animal to contract coronavirus, and they may show only mild clinical signs and recover within a few days.

“Limited evidence available at present suggests that coronavirus may pass from infected humans to certain pets such as dogs, cats and ferrets following close contact.”

It also said coronavirus “may pass between ferrets and humans based on the evidence from mink infections”.

Last November, Denmark started to cull up to 17 million mink over fears a mutated form of coronavirus was spreading to humans.

Professor Richard Tedder, a senior research investigator in medical virology at Imperial College London, told Yahoo News UK: “The route taken by the current coronavirus to gain a hold on humans is variously thought to have been from bats via pangolins, perhaps small rodents, into humans.

“It is not therefore surprising that other animals are also capable of being infected.

“Celebrated transmissions have been documented in large cats, tigers and lions, and also in domestic cats and dogs after presumed contact with infected humans and in mink.

“Whilst both cats and dogs can be infected, transmission between cats as opposed to between dogs suggests that the virus-infected cat is more able to shed infectious virus to other cats than is an infected dog to other dogs.

“Nevertheless, the risk of persons acquiring infection from their pets, including cats, remains theoretical at this time.”

In a photo taken on April 2, 2020 a cat sleeps at the closed 2 Cats cat cafe in Seoul. - Business has been devastated by the coronavirus outbreak, with South Koreans staying at home under social distancing guidelines, and tourism disappearing. But unlike other firms, animal cafes have to stay open so that staff can look after their stock. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP) (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)
A cat sleeps at cat cafe in Seoul, South Korea. (AFP via Getty Images)

Last month, scientists at the University of East Anglia warned it could be necessary to vaccinate domestic animals such as cats and dogs against coronavirus.

“It is not unthinkable that vaccination of some domesticated animal species might be necessary to curb the spread of the infection,” they said.

Cock van Oosterhout, professor of evolutionary genetics at the university and one of the study’s co-authors, said there are no known cases in which cats and dogs have infected humans.

However, he said: “It makes sense to develop vaccines for pets, for domestic animals, just as a precaution to reduce this risk.

“What we need to be as a human society, we really need to be prepared for any eventuality when it comes to COVID.

“I think the best way to do this is indeed consider development of vaccines for animals as well.”

At the end of last year, four lions at a zoo in Spain tested positive for coronavirus, while five tigers and three lions contracted COVID-19 at Bronx Zoo in New York last April.

Last month, a number of gorillas tested positive for coronavirus at San Diego Zoo.

Watch: Gorillas at zoo test positive for COVID-19