Despite repeated assurances from public health officials that outdoor activities are generally safe during the pandemic, researchers in Spain found that dog walkers are 78% more likely to contract the coronavirus, a revelation that jolted dog owners and puzzled epidemiologists.
The study, which examined hygiene habits and mobility patterns, didn't specify a reason for the increased risk or identify how the patients became infected with the virus.
More on the coronavirus pandemic
"I'm really surprised to hear that," said dog owner Rachel King of Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. "I thought having a dog was the great thing about this time because you're outside."
It's still unclear whether dogs transmit the virus to humans. Only four dogs worldwide are known to have been infected since the start of the pandemic, according to researchers.
Dr. Joshua Barocas, an epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center, said dogs themselves aren't the likely culprits. He said the social nature of dog-walking could play a role in the increased risk.
"People go out, they walk their dogs, somebody else touches the dog, maybe they inadvertently shake hands with somebody, somebody coughs and then shakes hands or touches the dog," he explained.
The study didn't find any increased risk for owners of other kinds of pets.