The detection of infection with SARS-CoV-2 in animals meets the criteria for reporting emerging infections to the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) (of which the UK is a member country). Whilst SARS-CoV-2 is currently not a notifiable disease in animals in the UK (or EU), vets in practice have a professional obligation to report any positive test results to the competent authority to support the UK’s international reporting obligations to the OIE.
Globally only a small number of cases of naturally acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals have been reported. Human-to-human transmission is still considered the main route of disease spread. Testing for SARS-CoV-2 in pets should only be undertaken where it is in the interest of the health and welfare of the pet.
Based on existing scientific knowledge, the UK Government advises that private testing should only be considered in pets which meet all four criteria set out in the case definition and that oropharyngeal and rectal swabs are the only suitable specimen types. Testing undertaken at private laboratories should be based on the detection of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in animals via PCR (typically RT-qPCR) or an equivalent assay.
In the event of a positive test result, vets in practice are asked to make clients and diagnostic laboratories aware of certain actions required by DEFRA. All information should be handled with appropriate confidentiality.
Further information on the background to testing of pets and the detailed requirements vets in small animal practice should fulfil when undertaking testing or reporting results, are available in APHA Briefing Note 18/20 available here.
Please see additional Government guidance for vets in practice on management of pets in need of examination or treatment which are from a household with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, in APHA Briefing Note 10/20 available on the APHA Vet Gateway
Further resources on COVID-19 are available on the dedicated BSAVA website here.