As with any major health crisis, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about dogs and cats and the new coronavirus (also called the Wuhan coronavirus or 2019-nCoV). Can pets get this new coronavirus? If so, can they give it to us? And can they get it from us? Let’s look at what we know and, just as importantly, what we don’t.
Can dogs and cats get the new coronavirus from other animals or from people?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus.” This means that it is very unlikely that dogs and cats can get the virus from people or serve as a source of the infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds the following:
CDC recommends that people traveling to China avoid animals both live and dead, but there is no reason to think that any animals or pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus.
Could the new coronavirus mutate?
Most viruses can only infect a limited number of species, which is determined in large part by the virus’s ability to recognize receptors on host cells. However, as a group, coronaviruses seem predisposed to mutate and become able to infect new species.
For example, the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus outbreak originated in dromedary camels, and the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus appears to have come from civet cats. Scientists don’t definitively know the source of 2019-nCoV, but research is pointing towards bats as a likely source.
How is this virus different from canine coronavirus and feline coronavirus?
While dogs and cats appear to be unaffected by 2019-nCoV, they do have their own coronaviruses to deal with. Dogs infected with canine coronavirus typically develop diarrhea. Young puppies are at highest risk, but dogs of all ages usually recover uneventfully on their own or with symptomatic care.
Feline coronavirus also tends to cause mild, self-limiting diarrhea, especially in kittens. In rare cases, however, the virus can go dormant in the cat’s body and later mutate into a new form that causes feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a disease that is almost always fatal.
Neither canine coronavirus nor feline coronavirus can infect people.
Stay informed as we learn more about pets and the new coronavirus
It is important to recognize that viruses are constantly evolving. At this time, 2019-nCoV does not appear to be a problem for dogs and cats, but it’s possible that this could change with future mutations or as our understanding of the virus improves. As history shows, it is also likely that an even newer coronavirus will emerge, which may have the ability to infect companion animals as well as people.
Help prevent the spread of viruses
As always, good hygiene is one of the best defenses against infectious agents of all sorts. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after being around sick people or handling animals or animal waste. If you or your pet is ill, seek appropriate medical or veterinary attention and follow the doctor’s recommendations when it comes to vaccination and other forms of preventative care.
From Dr. Scott Weese: “I’ve written a couple times about the dog in Hong Kong that was identified as positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) on February 26th. The initial thought (hope?) was that it was not really an infection but a positive result from contamination from the infected owner. The additional positive test result two days later (February 28th) suggested it may have been a true infection. Re-testing of the dog again on March 2nd yielded a third weak-positive result. That makes it pretty likely that the dog is actually infected, albeit at a low level, and that this was a case of human-to-animal transmission. This conclusion is apparently now supported by experts at the the University of Hong Kong and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
The dog has remained healthy, which is good. Whether that means this virus can’t cause disease in dogs or it just didn’t in this one isn’t known. People can be infected without getting sick, so it’s too early to say one way or the other what this result means in the broader canine picture. The dog remains quarantined at the Hong Kong Port of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, with a plan to keep it there until it tests negative.
One other dog is under quarantine there, and it was negative on its first test.”
One major trickle-down effect of widespread disease outbreaks can be a shortage of certain supplies. As COVID-19 has emerged and spread in humans, availability of items such as nose-and-mouth (e.g. surgical) masks rapidly decreased because of hoarding, diversion to the black market, increased unnecessary use and increased legitimate use. In such a situation, veterinary clinics are typically unable to get masks because suppliers are sold out and production will (obviously) be geared towards supplying the human medical facilities. As a result, a growing concern right now (in both human and veterinary medicine) is how to handle shortages, with scenarios where facilities run out of supplies being on the horizon.
Surgical masks are likely to be the first thing we run out of. The most apparent solution to the problem would be to start reusing surgical masks, but these masks are marketed as single-use items and under normal circumstances are not meant to be re-used. So a lot of clinics are now asking the question: Can we re-use surgical masks?