COVID-19 & Pets

What is this COVID-19 and does it affect pets? The first thing to know is that the term COVID-19 refers to Coronavirus illness, also known as human novel coronavirus illness. The virus causing the illness is called SARS-CoV-2 or "Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" So now that we have that sorted, do I need to do anything regarding my pets?

There is currently no evidence that pets play a role in the spread of the human novel coronavirus illness known as COVID-19.

Coronavirus is a name for a family of viruses that include the common cold. Many strains of coronavirus are mild while others cause more severe illness. You may have heard of two severe coronavirus outbreaks, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012 and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) affecting Asia in 2003. What makes the virus causing COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus so dangerous is that the human population has never been exposed to it before and the virus finds humans to be a very attractive host.

There are many different types of coronavirus that are species specific. Canine coronavirus which can cause mild diarrhoea in dogs and feline coronavirus which can cause feline infectious peritonitis are both non zoonotic diseases meaning they cannot be transmitted to humans and pose no risk to people. Similarly the cornavirus that causes the common cold in humans cannot be transmitted to pets.

It appears that it is very rare for pets to become infected with SARS-CoV-2. They are not naturally infected easily with the virus and there is no evidence that they become sick from the virus if they are infected. There is no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people.

In China, veterinary departments have been testing domestic animals for SARS-CoV-2 and no positive reports have been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health. A large veterinary pathology lab has evaluated thousands of dog and cat samples in the European Union, USA and Canada and no positive tests were found even though many of the pets were living in households suffering from COVID-19. In Hong Kong media reported two dogs testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 genetic material after the dogs were exposed to people infected with COVID-19. Neither dog showed any clinical signs of infection and infectious virus was not isolated from either dog.

SARS-CoV-2 can survive longer on smooth non-porous surfaces such as glass, metal, door knobs and phones posing a transmission risk if a person touches that surface. SARS-CoV-2 is much less likely to survive as long on porous surfaces such as wood, clothing or pet fur.

Cats and ferrets do have some biology similar to humans. In fact ferrets are often used as models in vaccine trials. We both have the same type of receptors in our respiratory systems called ACE receptors. These receptors are what the SARS-CoV-2 virus attaches onto in order to infect the cell. Reports of a study in China has found that cats and especially ferrets can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 through experimental infection with high doses given directly to the animals respiratory system. Dogs were found to have low susceptibility to infection and pigs, chickens and ducks don't seem to be susceptible. Experimentally infected cats in one case did manage to infect 1 out of three cats exposed to the infected cats. This study is not peer reviewed. There is no indication that pets can transmit the virus to humans. Indeed there is no indication that pets can become infected outside of deliberate experimental infection.

Right now it appears that dogs and cats are not easily infected with SARS-CoV-2 and there is little to no evidence that they become sick and there is no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people or other pets in their natural environment.

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