Dr Sarah Pitt, virologist and biomedical scientist at the University of Brighton, told the Daily Telegraph: "We know that this virus can be transmitted via human to human, and also via human to animal. What is not certain is that the virus can go from animal to humans, or from one cat to another cat. That's not to say it doesn't happen, but nobody knows for sure."
Dr Pitt, lecturer in the university’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Science and Fellow of the Institute of Biomedical Science, said the virus could live on pets' fur, which could be a reason to keep cats in doors: "We can definitely say that pets can carry the virus around, and the pet might get sick itself, but whether cats or dogs are going to be a source of virus to other people is not known."
Dr Pitt was commenting on an article for The Lancet Microbe by experts from University College London who said there was "increasing evidence" that some animals can pass COVID-19 on to humans.
She urged pet owners to be cautious: "If you’re feeling a bit miserable and sorry for yourself with COVID-19 symptoms, cuddling your dog probably isn’t the best option for either of you. You might infect the dog, or virus might get on outside of dogs fur."
The World Organisation for Animal Health advises hand washing “before and after being around animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.”
But Dr Pitt added: "I don’t think people should be scared; they should be proceeding with caution, as with everything else. The dog is part of your household, so treat the dog or the cat the way you would the rest of your household ‘bubble’. You wouldn’t want to infect your child, but you also don’t want to infect your cat."