Chinese pet owners are flocking to buy face masks for their dogs amid the coronavirus outbreak to prevent their pets from catching the deadly disease which has killed 170 people.

One Beijing-based online seller says he is now selling 10 times the number of special masks for dogs every day than before.

The news comes after China’s top expert for infectious diseases warned that pets might also be infected by the novel coronavirus, which has so far spread to 21 countries and regions and sickened more than 7,900 people.

The World Health Organisation, however, claims that it has not seen any evidence of the virus being passed onto cats or dogs.

Zhou Tianxiao, 33, started trading canine-specific face masks on Chinese e-commerce site Taobao in 2018 to help pets fight air pollution.

But since the coronavirus broke out late last month in Wuhan, Mr. Zhou has seen his sales volume soaring from 150 masks per month to at least 50 pieces a day.

‘Most [dogs] have started to wear [masks]. Because there is this virus, people pay more attention to their health and their pets’ health,’ according to the vendor, who is offering the merchandise at the price of 49 yuan for a pack of three.

“{The dog masks] might not be as professional as the medical masks made for humans, but they are functional,’ said Mr. Zhou, who has a six-year-old border collie called Sylar.

‘Their main purposes are to block out smog, stop dogs from eating or licking food on the floor and prevent them from being exposed to the virus,’ he added.

Dogs may not be willing to put on the protective devices at the beginning, but ‘compared to risking their lives, prevention is a priority’, Mr. Zhou noted.

Prof. Li Lanjuan, a member of the senior expert team from China’s National Health Commission, cautioned that pet owners should take extra care of their animals because the virus ‘spreads between mammals’.

Prof. Li, who is also an academician from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, yesterday told state broadcaster CCTV: ‘In this epidemic season, pet owners should strengthen the management of their pets.’

She added: ‘If your dogs run around outside and come to contact with the outbreak or people infected with the virus, then your pets should also be put in quarantine.

‘Because the epidemic spreads between mammals, therefore we should take precaution against other mammals.’

But according to the World Health Organization, no evidence has suggested that cats and dogs could also catch the coronavirus.

In a message posted today on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, the group advised people to wash their hands after holding their pets to reduce the risks of catching bacteria from the animals.