COVID-19 and your pet dog or cat

Sources: WSAVA, OIE, ECDPC, AVMA, BVA, IDEXX

There are many types of Coronaviruses. Some are specific to birds and fish (delta and gamma types), others to mammals (alpha and beta). Dogs and cats have their own coronaviruses, both classed as alphacoronaviruses. The canine (dog) one causes diarrhoea (sometimes haemorrhagic). The feline (cat) one is responsible for FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). The human coronaviruses of current concern (MERS, SARS, and COVID-19) are all betacoronaviruses – their genetic makeup is quite different to the alpha viruses.

For a coronavirus to cause disease, the virus doesn’t only have to get into the body. It has to get into the cells within the body, where it can multiply its genetic material (RNA, similar to DNA). To be described as ‘infected’, the virus needs to be multiplying.

The access point of a cell (the “receptor site”) for COVID-19 is very different to those of the alpha coronaviruses. Thus, the chance of COVID-19 naturally infecting a dog or cat is believed to be very low.

There have been reports of an elderly Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong, and a cat in Belgium, testing positive for COVID-19. Both animals belonged to owners who were positive for COVID-19. The Pomeranian was tested due to being placed in quarantine, the cat because it was ill with mild respiratory and gastrointestinal signs. The test results are not in question; the test looks for the virus’ genetic material and is highly specific. What IS in question is the significance of the result.

There is a vast difference in finding some virus in the dog’s nose or cat rectum, and the animal being “infected”.

The dog was also subjected to antibody testing – looking for a response by the dog’s immune system to the virus, which would confirm the virus had sneaked in; there was NO response. The cat got better, and it is not known what other diseases/conditions were tested for. Anything from a tummy bug to pancreatitis, with an episode of pollen allergy, could have been responsible.

Today (2nd April) the UK Guardian newspaper has reported a study that appears to confirm cats can be infected and potentially transmit the virus to other cats. Extreme caution is needed in the interpretation. The study involved a very small number of cats and the cats were ‘inoculated with a high dose’ of coronavirus. One cat apparently contracted the virus from the others. It is not known how the virus was administered to the cats (breathed in as vapour, fed, injected), nor has the paper been peer-reviewed for accuracy. How relevant this research is to the real world is unknown.

IDEXX Laboratories (global veterinary laboratory) have so far tested thousands of dog and cat samples, during validation of a test they are manufacturing. All have been NEGATIVE. If dog/cat transmission to people was happening, we would, after more than 3 months of the pandemic, be seeing it all over the world. We are not.

What IS known, is that your dog or cat’s fur can harbour the virus, in the same way a trolley or door handle can. Thus, your PETS SHOULD ALSO BE PRACTISING SOCIAL DISTANCING – if walking the dog, others should not be stroking it. In the same vein, don’t stroke random cats in the street – but no need to be mean to them either!!

Speaking of walking the dog – since the outbreak, there has been a marked downturn in the number of enquiries at shelters.

There are good shelters and bad. A good one will help pair you with the right forever dog, or if they can’t, point you in the right direction. My 2nd dog came from the Canil Municipal de Tavira. It was an excellent experience – I came away with a socialised, vaccinated, spayed, blood tested dog who had already made friends with dog 1.

If you can’t adopt, please consider fostering/ dog-walking as a volunteer/ financial support – all the shelters are suffering. 🙂

1 thought on “COVID-19 and your pet dog or cat

  1. Very interesting. Rollo had orange diarrhoea for about 2 months. Jan and Feb. In the end the goat stuff Panacur got rid of it.

    Like

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