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18 March 2020

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) having declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (officially known as SARS-CoV-2) a global health emergency, you might wonder if this virus could be transmitted to your pet.

The WHO, World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have all stated that they do not believe this current strain of coronavirus that has been affecting humans, can be passed from humans to companion animals, or from animals to humans.

The WHO stresses, however, that it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with your pets. This protects against common bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.

Even though pets can’t get COVID-19, if your pet has been in contact with a person who has been confirmed to have coronavirus, you should call your veterinarian to discuss your next steps.

Despite not being susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, both cats and dogs can be infected with other types of coronavirus. One type that affects dogs is canine respiratory coronavirus, which can cause an acute upper respiratory infection. And feline enteric coronavirus, which is one type that affects cats, can lead to a cat developing a disease known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

Canine Coronavirus

Both types of coronavirus that can affect dogs are more commonly found in places where large numbers of dogs are housed together, such as in shelters or kennels. There are vaccines available to protect your dog against coronavirus infection, but you should speak to your veterinarian about whether your dog requires these vaccines. The Australian Veterinary Association does not recommend that dogs are vaccinated against coronavirus.

Feline Coronavirus

Feline coronavirus is a fairly common viral infection in cats. Most cats that are infected do not show any symptoms. Those that do usually suffer from vomiting or diarrhoea. Just like in dogs, it spreads easily between cats that are living in close contact such as in a shelter or kennel. The best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection between cats is to regularly scoop litter boxes and to use appropriate disinfectants when cleaning. A vaccine for coronavirus in cats is available in Australia.

Caring for your pet when you are unwell

Thee are some simple steps you can follow to prevent the spread of illness to your pet. If you or others who care for your pets are unwell, you should avoid handling your pets or wear a face mask if you must be around animals. Thorough hand washing with soap and water for around 20 seconds is always recommended after handling animals to prevent the spread of bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. To prevent the spread of highly contagious viruses and bacteria between animals, protective wear such as disposable aprons and shoe covers are also recommended.

If you have read this article and are still concerned about coronavirus affecting your pet, the best person to speak to is your veterinarian.

Update from WSAVA on 7 March 2020

Reports from Hong Kong on February 28 indicated that the pet dog of an infected patient had tested “weakly positive” to COVID-19 after routine testing. On March 5, the Hong Kong SAR Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that nasal, oral, rectal and faecal samples from the dog have been tested. On February 26 and 28, oral and nasal swabs were positive, while on March 2, only nasal swabs showed positive results. The rectal and faecal samples tested negative on all three occasions.

Testing at both the government veterinary laboratory (AFCD) and the WHO accredited diagnostic human CoV laboratory at Hong Kong University (HKU) detected a low viral load in the nasal and oral swabs. Both laboratories used the real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method and the results indicate that there was a small quantity of COVID-19 viral RNA in the samples. It does not, however, indicate whether the samples contain intact virus particles which are infectious, or just fragments of the RNA, which are not contagious.

The dog, which is showing no relevant clinical signs, was removed from the household, which was the possible source of contamination on 26 February. Retesting was performed after the dog was put under quarantine to determine whether the dog was in fact infected or whether its mouth and nose were being contaminated with COVID-19 virus from the household.

The AFCD’s document states that the “weak positive” result from the nasal sample taken 5 days after the dog was removed from the possible source of contamination suggests that the dog has a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission. However, there is still no evidence at this time that mammalian pet animals including dogs and cats can be a source of infection to other animals or humans.

The original article first appeared on vetshopaustralia.com.au and has been republished with their permission.

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