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The University of Calgary team will review available research alongside studies of other coronaviruses and the work of infectious disease experts.jewhyte/Getty Images

Researchers at the University of Calgary examined the potential for COVID-19 transmission between humans and animals as the origins of the novel coronavirus fuel speculation about any risk posed to people by their pets.

The novel coronavirus behind COVID-19 is believed to have started in a wild animal, and while there are no confirmed cases of pets transmitting the disease to humans, there are recorded instances of humans transmitting the virus to animals, notably a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

The University of Calgary team reviewed available research alongside studies of other coronaviruses and the work of infectious-disease experts.

Dr. Rebecca Archer, a clinical instructor of small-animal medicine at the university who is part of the research team, said there doesn’t appear to be a risk of humans getting the disease from their pets.

She said there is a small amount of evidence that some animals such as cats and hamsters could potentially pass it to each other. Dogs are less likely to contract the virus or transmit it to other dogs.

Dr. Archer said pets who have contracted COVID-19 have had mild cases and there are no recorded pet deaths.

Research has speculated that the coronavirus molecule must bind to cells in order to infect them, which could mean that certain animals have receptor sites more accessible to the coronavirus than others. This may explain why cats, which have receptors more similar to humans than dogs, are more likely to contract COVID-19.

"Your cats and your ferrets and your hamsters, to a lesser extent, your dogs can potentially get this,” Dr. Archer said, adding that people are not at risk from their pets. “They’re not going to give it to you.”

Dr. Archer said there has been a lot of research rushed out before it can be peer-reviewed. She said the team’s work will help fill that gap.

“We need that, because we need all the information that we can get as fast as we can get it,” she said.

While the virus can be transferred through contact with surfaces, Dr. Archer said the risk of the coronavirus lingering on a pet’s fur or skin “is likely quite low,” and that if animals could spread the virus this way, researchers would know by now.

The University of Calgary team recommends pet owners who have symptoms of COVID-19 isolate from pets the same way they isolate from other members of the household. They say people should also practise measures such as frequent hand-washing and coughing and sneezing into their arm. Dr. Archer said that there is no need to give a pet up for adoption or to be cared for by others if you contract COVID-19.

“Don’t stop cuddling your kitty, or giving your doggy belly rubs. They’re definitely a good part of your quarantine," she said.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the nature of the review of existing research.

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