By Robert Westra
With the COVID -19 Pandemic creating many challenges today, we thought we would provide information to help you understand the condition and reduce any risk to you or your furry family members.
A novel coronavirus, named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department of Hong Kong reported on March 4th, 2020 a pet dog had repeatedly tested weak positive for SARS-CoV-2. This is consistent with a low level of infection. The transmission was most likely human to animal, as the dog lived with a human that tested positive for the virus. The pet was quarantined for 14 days and never developed clinical signs. Sadly, the pet passed away shortly after its quarantine from unrelated causes.
Although this case is concerning, we don’t really know if SARS-CoV-2 can infect dogs, cats and other animals. The World Health Organization stated there is no evidence at present that dogs and cats can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or develop and spread the associated disease, COVID -19. Researchers were not able to isolate the specific virus from the dog in Hong Kong, only being able to recover small amounts of associated RNA.
To become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, there are multiple stages required. The virus must be able to bind with cell membranes within the body and then be able to replicate itself and defend itself from the host’s immune system. From the one dog in Hong Kong, there is evidence to suggest the virus can bind to cell membranes in dogs, but it is not understood if the virus can replicate within the canine host. The receptor the virus uses to fuse with a cell membrane shows similarity with binding sites within the dog, cat and ferret. Rodents, rats and mice, do not seem to have this binding site. Currently, no infected cats have been identified. There is not enough evidence to suggest that dogs and cats can transmit the disease to people. Granted, investigation into domestic animal transmission is limited.
What may be of more concern, is if family pets can serve as a vector of transmission. The virus was originally thought to only pass from human to human through fluids such as mucous and saliva via coughing and sneezing. We now understand that the virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours. People may be infected from touching these contaminated surfaces then touching their mouth, nose and eyes. These vectors of transmission are called fomites. Smooth surfaces such as countertops, handrails and doorknobs hold and transmit the virus more effectively than irregular surfaces such as cloth, paper and presumably fur. These porous, fibrous materials absorb and trap the virus making transmission more difficult. Therefore, it is unlikely you can contract the virus from petting your dog or cat. It is important to remember animals can spread other disease to people and practicing good hygiene is always recommended. Keep your pets tidy, well-groomed and keep your pet’s waste cleaned up. Regularly cleaning your pet’s food and water bowls as well as bedding and toys will improve their general health and well-being.
If you become infected, testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, then it can be assumed your pet has also been exposed. Rather than having your pets tested, especially with the limited testing resources, they should be quarantined at home. Taking them to your local vet, where the clinic may not be properly equipped to handle the exposure, should be carefully questioned. Should your pet develop clinical signs, call your vet first to determine the best means of obtaining appropriate treatment. You may want to reschedule any non-essential appointments and see if needed medications for your pet can be mailed to you.
The best protection, at this time, is social distancing, good personal hygiene, regular hand washing following the recommended guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html)
For additional information regarding pets and COVID-19:
-Dr. Scott Weese, an infectious disease consultant for the Veterinary Information Network, maintains a blog about safe pet ownership.
-The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC)
- AVMA information page: The American Veterinary Medical Association has created a website that also discusses general issues about COVID-1
-American Kennel Club – Canine Health Foundation Coronavirus Information for Dog Owners.
Rishniw, Mark. “COVID-19 FAQ for Pet Owners.” Veterinary Partner, Veterinary Information Network Inc. 18/03/2020, https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/doc/?id=9548687&pid=19239
Weese, Scott. “COVID-19: Another Positive Dog.” Worms and Germs Blog, University of Guelph Centre for Public Health & Zoonoses.19/03/2020, https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/
“Low-level of infection with COVID-19 in Pet Dog.” The Government of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, Press Releases, 04/03/2020, https://www.vin.com/members/cms/project/defaultadv1.aspx?id=9548725&pid=25078&