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Coronavirus in Cats and Dogs: How Does COVID-19 Affect Pets?


A stray cat in the streets of an empty Istanbul.

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The pandemic of coronavirus has gone so fast that many fundamental questions about where the virus comes from and how it spreads have not yet been definitively answered. But thanks to a wealth of research on previous coronavirus epidemics, scientists have shown that this virus family can jump from bats to other species, such as civets and camels.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 is similar in this way to previous coronaviruses. It is not particularly picky when it comes to infecting mammals. The virus can hijack cells by interacting with a cell surface protein, known as ACE2, which is present in many animals, including cats and dogs. Because the virus has been shown to jump across species – and thanks to some anecdotal reports of COVID-19 in pets – owners are understandably concerned about how COVID-19 might affect their pets ..

Some media reports have shown that the coronavirus can infect our pets. Two domestic cats in New York State tested positive, which was the first American pet case, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more exotic species such as tigers and lions also tested positive. However, cases remain rare. It appears that the transmission of human-to-animal disease is low, with a small number of cases since the first days of the outbreak. Importantly, there is still no evidence that pets can ship to their owners. The World Health Organization says there is "no evidence that a dog, cat, or any pet can transmit COVID-19."

We've collected here everything you need to know about coronavirus and your pets, along with emerging research into how animals can spread or be affected by the coronavirus. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me by email or nudge me on Twitter .

Where does the coronavirus come from?

This coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is what is known as a zoonosis: the jump of an animal species into humans.

By studying the genetic makeup of the 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 intermediate species in close contact with humans. . Some scientists believe that the middleman may be the pangolin, a scaly ant-eating mammal that has historically been shown to harbor coronaviruses and is one of the most illegally traded animals in the world.

Pangolins sold in a Chinese live animal market was 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 very first identified patient was not exposed to the animal market. Evidence that the pangolin was an intermediary remains scarce, and some scientists believe the search should be expanded.

Whatever the origin story of SARS-CoV-2, we know that coronaviruses are able to settle in all kinds – whether they cause disease or not, it is a question that still requires an answer and it is an important one. Epidemiologists will want to know which species can harbor the virus so that they can better understand where it can occur in the environment and how likely it is to bounce back to humans in the future.

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Can the coronavirus infect cats and dogs?

Coronaviruses are not particularly difficult to please when it comes to potential hosts – they have been found in many mammals and bird species, including dogs and cats, as well as in livestock such as cows, chickens and pigs.

There are several reports that provide evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in pets. A 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong repeatedly tested "weakly positive" for coronavirus in March and died later. A cat in Belgium tested positive for the disease on March 24. And two house cats in New York tested positive in April, presumably after contracting the virus in people at home or nearby.

"These pets lived with infected human owners, and the timing of the positive result shows human-to-animal transmission," said Jacqui Norris, a veterinary scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia. "The virus culture in these pets was negative, meaning that no active virus was present."

A study, published in the journal Nature on May 14, looked at two cases of COVID-19 in dogs in Hong Kong – the earlier mentioned 17-year-old dog, a Pomeranian and a 2.5-year-old German Shepherd. The study showed that the virus had been sampled from the two animals, but more importantly there were no signs of disease. A second dog, a crossbreed, was housed with the German Shepherd, but samples from the animal have not detected any sign of the virus.

The authors conclude that human to animal transmission can take place, but from dog to animal. -canine seems unlikely.

Further evidence of how pets can get COVID-19 comes from a study by researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China, published April 8 in the journal Science. It investigated the susceptibility 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 the coronavirus and possibly spread to other cats through respiratory droplets. The team placed infected animals in cages next to three without the disease and found that in one case the virus had spread from cat to cat. However, the felines did not show any external symptoms

Dogs seem to be more resistant. Five 3-month-old beagles were inoculated with SARS-CoV-2 through the nasal passage and housed in two dogs that had not contracted the virus. After a week, the virus was not detected in any dog, but two had elicited an immune response. The two dogs that didn't get the virus didn't get it from their kennel mates.

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

IDEXX Reference Laboratories, a consortium of testing laboratories around the world, announced in March that it had developed a test kit for cats and dogs. After testing more than 4,000 specimens from the US and South Korea, it found no positive results. The United States Department of Agriculture has stated that it will not test companion animals unless animal testing and public health officials have been agreed 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 known as angiotensin converting enzyme 2, or ACE2.

That's because the virus itself is covered with spiky protrusions that can attach to ACE2 proteins on the surface of animal cells. The coronavirus then "nails" into place and caps the cell to replicate.

Using computer databases and modeling, researchers examined the genes of species to find out whether the ACE2 protein can be used in their cells by SARS-CoV-2. A recent study, published in the journal Microbes and Infection on March 19, showed that SARS-CoV-2 was able to grab the ACE2 receptor from many different species – including bats, civets and pigs – and predicted that it could can do with goats, sheep, horses, pangolins, lynx and pigeons.

Research from the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China suggests that the virus replicates poorly in chickens, ducks and pigs.

The first confirmed case of coronavirus in an animal in the US was documented on April 5, when 4-year-old Nadia, a Malayan tiger in the Bronx Zoo contracted the virus. , probably from an infected but asymptomatic zookeeper. It later turned out 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 that we do not know about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, but the main point to repeat: there is a lack of evidence that the coronavirus is spread by pets and pets to people.

"There is absolutely no evidence that pets play a role in the epidemiology of this disease," said Trevor Drew, director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Drew and colleagues at the AAHL test ferret vaccines 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 by the coronavirus. However, it's not likely that even ferret owners will get the disease from their furry friends, Drew said.

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

You might also wonder if you can take it out of your pet's coat? The risk is low – but not zero – because the coronavirus can survive on surfaces and can be transmitted via droplets. Theoretically, it can stay on the coat, so you should always wash your hands before and after interacting with your animals, especially if you feel unwell.

"Humans appear to be more at risk for their pets than for us," said Glenn Browning, a veterinary microbiologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

How can I protect my pets?

If you feel unwell and think you have contracted COVID-19, you should get tested first. If you suspect that you are not feeling well, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that "you limit contact with pets and other animals just as you would other people."

The best method of protection remains prevention. A wide variety of WHO resources are available to reduce your risk of infection, and the main measures are outlined below:

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds and no less! Here you can get some useful tips for washing hands .
  • Keep your distance: try to keep at least 1 meter away from anyone who coughs or sneezes.
  • Do not touch your face, eyes or mouth: a difficult task, but this is how the virus initially enters the body.
  • Hygiene measures for the respiratory system: coughing and sneezing in your elbow!

If you are ill, consider quarantining your pets at home. and limit your contact with them as much as possible. You don't have to insulate them, but try to confine them to one or two rooms in the house, wear a mask around you and – yes, we'll say it again – wash your hands.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19 in dogs and cats?

As in humans, there is currently no vaccine available against COVID-19. There is a coronavirus vaccine for dogs, but it targets another member of the coronavirus family and does not protect against COVID-19 (Note: The Australian Veterinary Association does not even recommend it for that virus).

There are many clinical studies in humans ongoing and there are several treatment options . While some can be adapted theoretically for different species (and some will even be tested in them), the most promising vaccines currently under development are designed for human use only.

Originally published in April and updated regularly with new information.

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