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COMPANION ANIMALS AND CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) – AN UPDATE

04/12/20

As our thoughts and headlines are consumed with the coronavirus crisis, it’s natural to worry about our pets during this time. Some impressive progress has been made in investigating the companion animal role in this disease, but there are still many questions left to be answered.  The internet provides a wealth of information and misinformation on this topic. Below is a summary of what we know to date, as well as some guidelines for how pet-owners can keep themselves, and their companion animals safe during this crisis.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, has been demonstrated to infect dogs, cats and ferrets. Even though this is true, the pattern of spread of this disease in communities and around the globe suggests that human-to-human transmission is the most important, if not the only, source of disease spread. There have been no documented cases of a human contracting COVID-19 from a companion animal.

Dogs
There are at least three documented cases of dogs contracting SARS-CoV-2 from their infected owners, and at least one manuscript describing experimental infection (intentional inoculation).  Of the companion animals that we know can host the virus, dogs appear to be the least suitable hosts.  None of the known infected dogs showed any signs of illness. Healthy dogs that were housed in close contact with infected dogs did not contract the virus. Repeated testing has so far shown that the virus can only persist in dogs for a short period of time.

These small, early investigations provide hope that dogs cannot get sick due to SARS-CoV-2, and that they cannot shed the virus in large enough quantities to contribute to the spread of the disease to other dogs (and hopefully people).

Cats
Cats, large and small, are better hosts for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Early observations in natural and experimental settings demonstrate that cats can be infected with the virus, and that they can become ill. Illness in cats appears to be milder that what we’ve observed in humans. Early research also suggests that infected cats can transmit the virus to healthy cats in close proximity.  There has been no evidence to suggest that cats can transmit the virus to humans at this time.

Ferrets
Of the companion animals, ferrets have so far been demonstrated to be the best non-primate hosts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. No ferrets have been documented to have contracted the virus through natural exposure from human companions however, experimentally infected ferrets did become ill. The infected ferrets did not appear to become as sick as humans can, and all recovered quickly without treatment. Experiments have also demonstrated that infected ferrets can transmit the disease to healthy ferrets housed nearby.  It is important to note that the experimentally infected ferrets were inoculated with very high viral loads. This means that we cannot yet be sure that ferrets can become infected or ill through natural transmission from a human companion.

Advice
Again, it is important to stress that that there have been no cases of pets becoming seriously ill due to SARS-CoV-2, and there have been no documented cases of pets transmitting the virus to humans. The pattern of spread continues to support human-to-human transmission as the primary, if not the sole, route of natural transmission to people. That being said, there are still large gaps in what we know. While we wait for further information to become available, there are several important steps that pet owners need to take to protect themselves, their animal companions, and their communities.

  • Avoid close contact with your pets (kissing, snuggling, bed-sharing, and food-sharing) particularly if you are ill
  • Wash your hands before and after feeding, handling and cleaning up after your pet
  • Keep cats and ferrets indoors and practice social distancing when walking your dog
  • Scoop the poop and dispose of it in appropriate receptacles
  • Avoid using kennels, catteries, group dog-walkers, groomers and pet daycares at this time
  • Keep your pets out of the shelter system
  • Make arrangements for someone to care for your pets should you become ill or otherwise unable to care for your pets
  • Avoid contact with your pets if you work in a high-risk area (i.e. healthcare providers)
  • Keep sick pets separate from people and other animals.  Designate one household member to care for a sick pet, limit contact, and wash hands thoroughly
  • If you or a household member contract COVID-19, and your pet becomes ill, notify your veterinarian by phone right away
  • Prevent contact between your pet and feral animals, strays, barn cats, and wildlife

Finally, do not surrender, abandon, or re-home your pets as a result of COVID-19 fears. Staying home remains the best way to keep you, your community, and your companion animals safe and happy.

Written by: Dr. Sperry, DVM, Veterinary Advisor, Pets Plus Us

The information provided and contained herein are the opinions of PTZ Insurance Services Ltd. which are based on external publication. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice.  PTZ Insurance Services Ltd. assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss, claims or damages arising out of the within content.