The novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, is sweeping the globe, causing tension and uncertainty during this unprecedented time. While we all learn to navigate this new reality, we naturally feel a bit anxious. One thing you can rest easy about, however, is the safety of your pets with regard to COVID-19. Continue reading for some important facts regarding coronaviruses and pets.
Fact #1: Coronaviruses are common, in humans and pets.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause a wide variety of illnesses in people and animals, including the common cold. Occasionally, coronaviruses cause more severe disease, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which caused a global human epidemic in 2003, and COVID-19, the novel coronavirus causing the current human pandemic. In general, coronaviruses stick to one species, but the more malignant human viruses appear to have animal origins.
Fact #2: Coronaviruses in pets are different
In pets, coronaviruses are fairly common, but the disease presentations vary greatly. The feline coronavirus (FCoV) typically causes mild diarrhea signs in affected cats, although most clear the infection with few or no signs. Occasionally, a virulent form of FCoV can take hold, causing feline infectious peritonitis, a serious disease that can cause fever, anorexia, fluid build-up, or growths in the abdomen, and can be fatal. Dogs are susceptible to two different coronaviruses—canine coronavirus, or CCoV, which causes gastrointestinal signs, and canine respiratory coronavirus, or CRCoV, which causes respiratory signs. Both canine diseases are extremely contagious, and are common in puppy mills and shelter situations. People cannot become infected with canine or feline coronaviruses.
Fact #3: There is no evidence that COVID-19 causes severe disease in pets.
While several pets have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, none have developed serious illness. A handful of dogs and cats, as well as a group of large cats at the Bronx Zoo, developed mild respiratory signs and tested positive, but so far, no pets have developed severe illness, or died from COVID-19. The good news for pets is that in relation to the millions of human COVID-19 infections, only a small portion of pets seem to be affected. This means that your pet’s likelihood of becoming ill is very small.
Fact #4: You cannot vaccinate your pet for COVID-19.
Contrary to what you may have heard, current coronavirus vaccines for pets cannot be used as protection against the novel coronavirus, because these vaccines are formulated for the specific canine and feline coronaviruses. Moreover, these vaccines are contraindicated in people.
Fact #5: Pets can act as vehicles of COVID-19, but the transmission route is unlikely.
The primary SARS-CoV-2 infection route is through respiratory droplets of an infected person (i.e., person-to-person contact), but the virus is thought to survive in the air and on surfaces for various amounts of time. While there is no evidence to support that pets can become infected and spread the novel coronavirus, if your pet’s fur or leash comes in contact with the virus, there is the potential that the microorganisms could transfer to another person and cause infection. This does not appear to be a primary infection route, but it is an important consideration. Consider keeping your pet at home, and do not allow your pet to socialize with other people or dogs during this time. If your service animal must accompany you in public, disinfect collars, leashes, and other paraphernalia that may come in contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. In addition, you may want to consider bathing your pet, or at least washing the paws when you return home.
Fact #6: There is still a lot we don’t know about pets and COVID-19.
While preliminary testing does not suggest that pets are at significant risk for the novel coronavirus, we must remain vigilant, as we don’t have the full story. Since this virus is so new, it will take time to gather data, and to formulate concrete conclusions regarding pets and COVID-19. However, with the limited information we have, pet owners seemingly can rest easy, knowing their pets are not likely to get sick from COVID-19.
The COVID-19 situation is rapidly changing, and we are closely monitoring how this public health crisis impacts your pet’s veterinary care. Please bear with us, as our practice evolves with our public health officials’ recommendations. For more information regarding COVID-19, consult a reputable source, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the American Veterinary Medical Association. For questions regarding our protocols moving forward at Best Friends Animal Hospital, contact us directly.