With the recent outbreak of coronavirus, it’s understandable to be concerned about the risks to yourself and your pets. Read on to find out everything you need to know about coronaviruses and COVID-19, whether your pets can catch it, and how to best protect yourself.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a type of viral infection that causes illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory diseases. There are many different strains of coronavirus, which can affect both people and pets.
The coronavirus pandemic currently affecting the world is a new, novel strain, known as COVID-19.
Can Dogs Get Coronavirus? Can Cats Get Coronavirus?
There are many strains of coronavirus that can affect dogs and cats. The most common strains are canine enteric (CECoV), feline enteric (FCoV) and canine respiratory (CRCoV) coronavirus, which can cause gastro-intestinal or respiratory symptoms.
COVID-19, the current pandemic strain, is different from the above strains that commonly affect cats and dogs. The CDC and other bodies have stated that it’s highly unlikely that pets will catch COVID-19.
COVID-19 cases reported in cats and dogs
To date, a total of two dogs (in Hong Kong) and four cats (two in New York State, one in Hong Kong and one in Belgium) have tested positive for COVID-19. All six animals were owned by people infected with COVID-19. Three of the cats displayed mild respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, while the other cat and both dogs did not display any clinical symptoms.
The first dog to test positive, a 17 year old Pomeranian, has sadly since passed away. While his owner declined an autopsy, he had multiple ongoing health issues that most likely contributed to his death, as opposed to COVID-19, as he did not display any signs of respiratory disease during his quarantine. The other pets have either already recovered, or are expected to make a full recovery.
A large number of domestic pets have been tested for COVID-19, including specimens from the United States, Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada, and Europe, and to date, all of the tests have proved negative, with the exception of those mentioned above.
Are cats more susceptible than dogs?
There is some speculation that cats may be slightly more susceptible than dogs, because the virus that causes COVID-19 enters cells via a receptor called ACE2. The ACE2 receptor of cats is nearly identical to the human receptor, whereas the dog ACE2 receptor is only about 70% the same as the human receptor. Nonetheless, it appears that domestic pets do not become infected easily with COVID-19 and when they do, the ability to become clinically ill is even more unlikely.
A recent update (from currently unpublished research in Wuhan, China) where cats were artificially inoculated with COVID-19 is that they could potentially “get the virus”, in that they produce antibodies to it, but do not necessarily become clinically ill. This research however was very rudimentary, and there is much we still do not know.
COVID-19 cases in big cats
Over the weekend of April 4th, news broke that a tiger at the Bronx Zoo had tested positive for COVID-19 after showing mild respiratory signs and a decrease in appetite. Several other big cats (3 tigers and 3 lions) were also suffering from a mild cough, however were not tested as this requires general anesthesia. Later, fecal samples showed that they may have been suffering from COVID-19. They were presumed to have been infected by an asymptomatic COVID-19-positive caretaker. This information is not entirely surprising given what we have learned from the testing of domestic cats in China and Belgium mentioned above, as cats (big or small), are somewhat similar. All of the big cats are recovering well.
What is the risk to my pet?
Given the huge number of people infected globally who own pets, compared to the extremely small number of pets presenting symptoms and testing positive to COVID-19, the risk to domestic pets is minimal. While it appears theoretically possible for pets to become infected with COVID-19 and for cats to show mild disease symptoms, the risk of transmission from humans to pets remains extremely low. There is also currently no evidence to suggest that domestic pets can transmit COVID-19 to humans, other than via fomite transmission, discussed in further detail below. Additionally, there are a number of actions you can take to protect your pets, again discussed below.
Epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists are closely monitoring this ever-evolving situation and until we learn more, the best practices for people and pets are outlined below.
Can Animals Transmit Coronavirus COVID-19?
Similar to previous novel coronaviruses like SARS, COVID-19 is thought to have originated from an animal host of unknown species in Wuhan City, China. Experts speculate it may have begun in bats.
When it comes to transmission to and from domestic pets such as dogs and cats, firstly, it’s worth noting that any infected pet is more likely to have got the virus from the human, not the other way around.
Experts from the CDC agree that there is no evidence to indicate that domestic pets can spread COVID-19 to people or other animals through aerosol or droplet transmission, however, there is a small chance that pets could act as vehicles of transmission (the scientific name is fomite) for COVID-19.
In the same way that the virus can be transmitted through an object or surface touched by an infected person, it could be passed on through pets’ fur coats, leashes or clothing.
Besides socially distancing yourself and your pet, it is a good idea not to let other people (except those you’re isolated with) touch your pet, and likewise for you not to touch other pets during this time. As always, proper and frequent hand hygiene after touching any surface is a key way to reduce your risk of catching anything.
While dogs and cats can suffer from various strains of coronavirus, it’s highly unlikely that they will catch COVID-19, the current pandemic strain.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Coronavirus?
In humans, the most common strain of coronavirus causes the common cold and isn’t usually a cause for concern.
The novel COVID-19 causes the below symptoms in humans:
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing difficulties
In more severe cases, COVID-19 symptoms can include:
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome
- Kidney failure
With regard to other strains of coronavirus, canine enteric (CECoV) and feline enteric (FCoV) coronaviruses typically cause mild gastro-intestinal symptoms, however in a small population of young cats, FCoV can mutate to a more serious form, causing feline infectious peritonitis.
Canine respiratory (CRCoV) coronavirus is part of the complex of viruses and bacteria associated with canine infectious respiratory disease, better known as Kennel Cough.
Almost always, the symptoms of these three strains are usually mild and pets typically recover on their own.
How Can I Protect Myself and My Pet From Coronavirus?
In addition to social distancing and following all local stay-at-home/shelter-in-place recommendations, the most important things you can do to help protect against coronavirus (as with any viral strain) is to practice good hand hygiene (washing your hands regularly with soap/water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and limit touching your face, nose and mouth.
Other advice is to cover coughs and sneezes, throw away used tissues immediately, and regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces with household cleaners or sprays.
Even though it’s highly unlikely that pets can catch coronavirus, the AVMA recommends that people who are symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID-19 should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would restrict your contact with other people. This includes petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. When possible, a member of the household other than the individual who is ill should care for any animals in the household.
Those who must care for a pet, or who will be around animals while sick, should wear an appropriate facemask and wash hands thoroughly before and after interacting with those animals.
As mentioned above, do not let other people (except those you’re isolated with) touch your pet, and likewise do not touch other pets during this time. The AVMA also recommends keeping dogs on a leash, at least 6 feet away from others, and keeping cats indoors.
If your pet shows any symptoms of gastro-intestinal or respiratory illness, make sure to keep them home and away from dog parks, groomers and play groups to limit the spread to other dogs.
Practicing good dog citizen skills – picking up their feces as soon as it is produced, especially in dog parks – will also help to limit contact and spread of viruses, bacteria and other parasites.
It’s also a good idea to wash your hands after petting your dog or cat, or handling their toys, and avoid touching your face or mouth until then.
Pet face masks will not have any effect in protecting your pet from coronavirus (or any other virus), and may in fact cause your pet to suffer breathing difficulties or anxiety.
Is There a Cure for Coronavirus?
As with many viral infections, there is no specific treatment for coronavirus as of yet; the body must fight off the infection on its own. Therapy is mainly supportive, which is why prevention is so important.
Is There a Vaccine for Coronavirus?
There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, although prototypes are currently in development.
Vaccination is available for canine coronavirus however it is not currently recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association, as the vaccine provides incomplete protection, cases are typically mild, and usually resolve on their own.
The exception for this recommendation would be for kennel and shelter situations where large groups of dogs of many age ranges are housed together.
Where Can I Find Out More about Coronavirus?
At Small Door Veterinary, we are committed to continuously monitoring new information and will provide updates as the situation progresses.