Keeping up with the constant flow of animal health news can be challenging as situations can change, quite literally, overnight. We are experiencing just such an occurrence with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus now called COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2. As you know, the outbreak began in China and as of this blog date (March 2020), more than 80 countries now reporting positive cases in humans. In addition to the human concerns, many people are asking about how this virus might affect their PETS! There is also confusion circulating through social media because our dogs do have their own type of coronavirus (Canine coronavirus) and cats have a couple of versions as well, including feline infectious peritonitis.
So, before we answer the question of COVID-19 and pets, we need to back up and understand that the term “coronavirus” refers to a large group of viruses in the family Coronaviridae. To complicate matters more, the different strains of viruses can be broken down into two sub families and about 40 species! Coronaviruses are found in mammals and birds. The key here is to remember that these viruses are quite often species specific, which means that they don’t reproduce well in other hosts. So, when you hear “Coronavirus,” remember that that is a very broad term!
Now, can YOUR pets get COVID-19 and, if so, what does that mean? The current consensus is that it is extremely unlikely (especially here in the US given the low number of human cases to date) for either our dogs or cats to catch this virus. There are reports out of Hong Kong of a dog who has tested a weak positive for the virus, but the dog remains (as of 3/6/20) asymptomatic. This dog is owned by a person who is positive for COVID-19 which means the potential for human to animal transmission is there. The pup is in isolation in Hong Kong and will stay there until he tests negative. The fact that the dog hasn’t shown signs could mean that the virus doesn’t replicate well in dogs OR it could mean that this dog was really good at suppressing the germ. We just don’t have enough information yet! I would advise following the Worms and Germs blog by Dr. Scott Weese. He is staying on top of this particular issue.
HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS: All experts asked to date do not believe that our pets will be a source of concern with respect to COVID-19. But, following a few commonsense rules doesn’t hurt. First, if you are sick, avoid cuddling with your pet. Let someone else in the household be the care provider for a little while. Let’s not share food with our pets while we are sick or let our pets “kiss” or lick us, especially in the face. Next, and most importantly, wash your hands frequently. This seem like it should be routine, but, well, we all know that one person, don’t we? Finally, don't panic!! Find reputable, trustworthy sites online (like this one!) and pay attention to what they are saying. Ask your veterinarian about good sites and, above all, don't give into fear-mongering by sharing stories (or headlines) that have not been properly researched or vetted.
Tell me . . . what are you seeing on social media that has you concerned?
UPDATE!! Reports out of Hong Kong today (3/12) state that the antibody test was negative, which generally means that the dog was NOT infected OR the infection was so minimal that the pup did not create antibodies. However, this dog continues to test weakly positive on nasal swabs for this COVID-19 virus (5 in total now) and that throws a confusing monkey wrench into the testing results. More bloodwork will be done and the little Pomeranian will need to remain in quarantine for the time being. To repeat what I said above, there is still NO evidence that our pets (especially dogs) are suitable hosts for COVID-19. TFD
UPDATE(3/18)...but no exclamation points...our little friend passed away this week, just a few days after he was reunited with his owner. His final two nasal swabs were negative of this coronavirus and antibody testing did not detect any antibodies for COVID-19. Remember, he was 17 years old and the stress of being away from his family, as well as the numerous nasal swabs and bloodwork performed may have had an impact on his overall health. There is still no reason to believe that the coronavirus played any role in his passing OR that it caused any sort of disease. Due to the owner's wishes, a necropsy (animal autopsy) was not performed. Although we never knew his name, we can appreciate his contribution to what we know about this virus. Rest in peace, little man. TFD