Ever since a dog tested positive for the coronavirus in Hong Kong, pet parents are asking how it may possibly affect their fur kids. Dr. Zac Pilossoph DVM a consulting veterinarian for Healthy Paws pet insurance company spells it all out.
Can dogs or cats become infected with the coronavirus?
For now, pet species are thought to be safe when it comes to COVID-19. As far as we know, pets cannot become infected with the specific coronavirus causing illness and humans. However, you would think, since viruses need to live within a host to survive, and they can only move from one person to another though the sick individual’s secretions (via coughing, sneezing, etc.) then something else must be helping to transmit the virus in such a rapid fashion. Since more and more people now have a close pet and are even often traveling with pets across the country, then a pet would get sick too, right? Well, let’s introduce the topic of passive carriers and fomites.
What is a passive carrier, what is a fomite, and how can they impact pets and humans?
A passive carrier is a living creature that can help spread disease from one animal to another, without ever becoming infected themselves. A fomite is an inanimate object (not alive) that can carry virus particles between organisms despite not being a mode for the virus to reproduce. To demonstrate the concept of passive carriers, pretend you were infected with the COVID-19 virus and you decided to snuggle your outdoor cat before letting them go outside and roam the neighborhood. Your cat, for a short amount of time, could pass virus particles to any human who subsequently pet them. In this scenario, your cat was a passive for coronavirus infection. If you performed a coronavirus test on that same cat, they may test weakly positive, not because they are infected with the virus, but because the virus is on them from your snuggle session. The same kind of idea would go for if you were infected with COVID-19 and sneezed on a telephone in which another person then picked up and contracted the virus thereafter.
Should pet parents be worried about zoonotic potential and/or anthropozoonosis?
No. As stated above, there is not yet to be thought or proven that an animal other than a human can harbor and pass on COVID-19 to a human (zoonotic potential) or that a human can pass COVID-19 to another non-human species (anthropozoonosis potential). Continuous testing is being done globally though on a regular basis to determine if this remains the case.
What’s the difference between COVID-19 vs. other types (serovars) of coronavirus, such as canine and/or feline coronavirus?
There are several types of coronaviruses on Earth, each which prefers a specific species. COVID-19 is one type of unique coronavirus that infects the human species. However, there are actually seven coronavirus serovar types that can infect humans. There are also coronavirus serovars that can infect dogs, but not cats or humans, and those that can infect cats, but not dogs or humans.
There are two primary types of coronavirus infection in dogs. One type can cause subclinical (no clinical signs) or mild small bowel and/or large bowel diarrhea in dogs. Another presentation can cause respiratory symptoms, such as nasal discharge, sneezing, and coughing (think kennel cough). Cats can also be infected with a species-specific coronavirus. In the high majority of feline coronavirus cases, the virus causes subclinical to mild diarrhea in 99 percent of cats, similar to dogs. However, what is interesting is that in less than one percent of cats, there is a chance that they can develop a more severe coronavirus type, which is in almost 100 percent of cases, a fatal condition. The common term for this type of coronavirus mutant is “Feline Infectious Peritonitis,” or FIP. Again though, neither the canine nor feline coronaviruses can infect humans, same as the other way around.
Note:It’s important to reiterate that although the dog in Hong Kong tested positive, he did not get ill. This is not a reason to surrender pets. It’s about being sensible and staying informed. Follow the CDC prevention guidelines to keep yourself healthy.