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Coronavirus in cats and dogs: How does COVID-19 affect pets?


A wild cat on the streets of an empty Istanbul.

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Visit the WHO Web site for the latest updates and information about the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has moved at such a windy pace that many basic questions about where the virus came from and how it spreads have not yet been definitively answered. But thanks to a trove of research on previous coronavirus epidemics, researchers have shown that this family of viruses can jump from bats to other species, such as civet cats and camels.

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19, is similar to previous coronaviruses in this way. It is not very accurate when it comes to infecting mammals. The virus can hijack cells by interacting with a cell surface protein, known as ACE2, found in many animals, including cats and dogs. Since the virus has been found to skip species – and thanks to some anecdotal reports of COVID-19 in pets – the owners are understandably worried about how COVID-19 can affect their companion animals.

Some media reports have shown that coronavirus can infect our companions. Two pet cats in New York state tested positive, marking the first American cases of companion animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have more exotic species such as tigers and lions tested positive as well. But cases remain rare. It seems that the transmission of the disease from human to animal is low, with a small number of cases reported since the early days of the outbreak. It is important that there is still no evidence that pets can pass on to their owners. The World Health Organization says there is "no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19."

We have gathered everything you need to know about coronavirus and your pets here, along with new research on how animals can be spread or affected by coronaviruses. If you have any further questions, you can reach out via email or give a nudge on Twitter .

Where did the corona virus come from?

This coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is what is known as a zoonotic disease: It jumped from an animal species to humans.

By studying the genetic makeup of coronavirus and comparing it to a library of previously known coronaviruses, experts suggest that the virus probably originated in Chinese horseshoe bats before jumping into an intermediate species in close contact with humans. Some researchers believe that the middlemen may be pangolin, a scaly, ant-feeding mammal that has previously been found to contain coronavirus and is one of the most illegally drawn drugs in the world.

Pangolins were sold to a Chinese live animal market, often cited as the "epicenter" of the outbreak, but the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a comprehensive report on patients infected with the disease, noting that the first identified patient had not been exposed to the animal market. The evidence that the pangolin was an intermediary remains scarce and some researchers believe that the search should be expanded.

Regardless of the origin history of SARS-CoV-2, we know that coronaviruses can establish residence in all kinds of species – whether they cause disease or not is a question that still requires an answer and it is an important question. Epidemiologists want to know which species can harbor the virus so that they can better understand where it can remain in the environment and how likely it is to jump back to humans in the future.

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Can coronavirus infect cats and dogs?

Coronaviruses are not very difficult to please in terms of potential hosts – they have been found in many mammalian and bird species, including dogs and cats, as well as cattle such as cows, chickens and pigs.

There have been several reports showing evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in pets. A 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong repeatedly tested "slightly positive" for coronavirus in March and died later. A cat in Belgium tested positive for the disease on March 24. And two pet cats in New York tested positive in April, probably after suffering the virus from people in their home or neighborhood.

"These pets lived with infected human owners, and the timing of the positive results shows human-to-animal transmission," said Jacqui Norris, a veterinary scientist at the University of Sydney, Australia. "Viral culture on these pets was negative, which meant that an active virus was not present."

A study, published in the journal Nature on May 14, looked at two cases of COVID-19 in dogs in Hong Kong – previously mentioned 17-year-old dog, a Pomeranian and a 2.5-year-old German Shepherd. The study showed that viruses were in samples taken from the two animals but more importantly there were no signs of disease. A second dog, a cross breed, was kept with the German Shepherd, but samples taken from the animal did not detect any signs of the virus.

The authors conclude that transfer from human to animal can occur but dog to rabbit seems unlikely.

Further evidence of how pets can be affected by COVID-19 comes from a study by researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China, published in the journal Science on April 8. It examined the sensitivity of a number of species to COVID-19, including cats and dogs, with a small number of animals.

The results showed that cats can be infected with coronavirus and may spread it to other cats via respiratory drops. The team placed infected animals in cages next to three animals without the disease and found, in one case, the virus had spread from cat to cat. However, these genders showed no external signs of illness.

Dogs seem to be more resistant. Five three-month-old beaters were inoculated with SARS-CoV-2 via the nasal passages and kept in two dogs that did not give the virus. After one week, the virus was not detected in any dogs, but two had generated an immune response. The two dogs that did not get the virus did not get it from their kennel cameras.

One of the most important takeaways is that these experiments were performed in a laboratory setting and high doses of coronavirus were used to infect the animals, which probably does not reflect how the virus would spread in real life. Still, cats seem prone to infection, and the authors note that further monitoring should be considered.

IDEXX Reference Laboratories, a consortium of test labs worldwide, announced in March that it had created a test package for felines and dogs. After conducting tests on over 4,000 specimens from the United States and South Korea, no positive results were found. The US Department of Agriculture has stated that it will not test companions unless tests are agreed by animal and public health officials because of "a link to a known human case of COVID-19."

Can other animals be infected by SARS-CoV-2?

Many species are susceptible to infection because they contain a protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 or ACE2.

This is because the virus itself is covered in stingy projections that can cling to ACE2 proteins on the surface of the animal cells. The corona virus "nails" then locks in place and cuts the cell to replicate.

Using computer databases and modeling, researchers have investigated the species of species to find out if the ACE2 protein in their cells can be used by SARS-CoV-2. A new study, published in the journal Microbes and Infection on March 19, showed that SARS-CoV-2 could take hold of the ACE2 receptor for many different species – including bats, civilian cats and pigs – and predicted that it could also be able to do it in goats, sheep, horse, pangolins, lynx and pigeons.

The research conducted by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China indicates that the virus is poorly replicated in chickens, ducks and pigs.

The first confirmed case of coronavirus in an animal in the United States was documented on April 5, when four-year-old Nadia, a Malayan tiger in the Bronx Zoo was found to have contracted the virus, probably from an infected but asymptomatic keeper . It was later found that many of the big cats in the zoo had contracted the virus – but most showed mild symptoms and were expected to recover.

Can I get COVID-19 from my pet? [19659011] There is still much we do not know about transmitting SARS-CoV-2, but the most important point to repeat: There is a lack of evidence that coronavirus is spread by pets and companion animals to humans.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that companion animals play any role in the epidemiology of this disease," said Trevor Drew, director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Drew and his colleagues at AAHL test vaccines in ferrets in preclinical studies to assess the safety and efficacy of new treatments. Ferrets are used in the trial because they are particularly susceptible to infection with coronavirus. However, according to Drew, it is unlikely that ill-owners also get the disease from their fur friends.

He notes that the researchers at AAHL do not see "open clinical disease" in their ferrets, but "they seem to have a low temperature and they replicate the virus." It may be that SARS-CoV-2 can infect these animals, but cannot replicate enough to cause the set of symptoms that define human COVID-19.

You might also wonder if you can pick it up from your pet's fur? The risk is low – but not zero – because the corona virus can survive on surfaces and can be transmitted via droplets. Theoretically it can hold onto fur, so you should always wash your hands before and after interacting with your animals, especially if you are feeling unwell.

"Humans seem to pose more risk to their pets than they do to us," says Glenn Browning, a veterinary microbiologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

How can I protect my pets?

If you feel bad and think you may have entered COVID-19, the first thing you should do is test. If you suspect you are unhealthy, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation is to "limit contact with pets and other animals, just as you would for other people."

The best method of protection is still preventive. There are a large number of resources available from WHO to reduce your risk of infection, and the most important actions are listed below:

  • Wash your hands: For 20 seconds and no less! You can get some practical hand washing tips here .
  • Keep Social Distance: Try to keep at least 3 feet away from someone who coughs or sneezes.
  • Avoid touching the face, eyes or mouth: A difficult task, but this is how the virus initially enters the body.
  • Respiratory Hygiene Measures: Coughing and sneezing in the elbow!

If you are ill, you may want to quarantine your pets at home and limit your contact with them as much as possible. You do not need to insulate them, but try to limit them to one or two rooms in the home, have a mask when you are around them and – yes, we will say it again – wash your hands.

is there a vaccine against COVID-19 in dogs and cats?

As with humans, there is no vaccine available against COVID-19 right now. There is a coronavirus virus vaccine, but it is targeted at another member of the coronavirus family and does not provide protection against COVID-19 (Note: Australian Veterinary Association does not even recommend it for that virus.

there are many clinical trials underway in humans, and a variety of treatment options Although some could theoretically be fine-tuned for different species (and some will also be tested in them), the most promising vaccines are in development right now designed for human use.

Originally published in April and updated with new information regularly.

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