German vets are offering a coronavirus test for cats and dogs after virologists found they are susceptible to the disease.
Scientists at the Free University of Berlin are carrying out PCR tests similar to those on humans to detect whether Covid-19 has spread to pets.
One virologist said cats appeared to be more vulnerable than dogs and could become 'carriers'. However, there have been no reported cases of humans being infected by their pets.
Belgian authorities announced the first case of an infected cat last month, and a second was later reported in Hong Kong.
While Germany is moving into animal tests, other countries including the UK are still well behind on testing humans. Germany is testing around 70,000 people a day, whereas only 13,069 were tested in England, Scotland and Wales on Sunday.
Virology professor Klaus Osterrieder said there were signs that the virus could be passed from humans to pets, but not the other way round.
'It seems to be possible for the virus to be transmitted from human to pet under natural conditions,' he said.
'There is growing evidence that cats in particular are susceptible to the virus.
'Research carried out so far suggests that cats are more likely than dogs to to be carriers of the virus.'
In addition to the tests on throat swabs, the Berlin researchers are offering a further examination which could analyse the virus in more detail.
The Free University researchers say there is 'no evidence' so far that infected cats or dogs can pass the disease to humans.
That has been echoed by scientists around the world, including in Belgium where a cat was revealed to have tested positive last month.
Belgian officials said it was an 'isolated case', confirming that the virus had spread from human to dog.
'The cat had diarrhoea, kept vomiting and had breathing difficulties. The researchers found the virus in the cat's faeces,' the country's top virologist said at the time.
Last week, authorities in Hong Kong announced another cat infection after its owner also tested positive.
Hong Kong had previously seen two dog infections, the first of which was a pomeranian belonging to a 60-year-old virus patient.
The agriculture department said the case was 'likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission'.
The dog later died after being released from quarantine, officials said.
The second infected dog was a German shepherd living in the Pok Fu Lam area on Hong Kong Island.
The pet was sent into to quarantine along with another mixed-breed dog from the same residence.
'We do not have evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread Covid-19,' says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus is believed to have originated from wild animals, but it remains unclear how it passed to humans in the first place.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.