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What You Should Know...
We are all on high alert as we follow the spread of the COVID-19 (new coronavirus) pandemic and its unprecedented impact on our lives. What about our pets? Are they susceptible? Can they transmit the infection? What should I do with my pet if I contract the virus? Where did this virus come from? While we are still trying to understand the COVID-19 pandemic, there is information emerging that is helpful in answering these questions.
Where Did It Come From?
Coronaviruses are a family of related viruses that can cause diseases in mammals and birds. The name is derived from the Latin “Corona” meaning “crown” which refers to the microscopic appearance of the virus – a ball with protein spikes that resemble a crown. In humans, past coronavirus infections have caused respiratory tract infections that were mild such as the common cold or serious, even fatal infections such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and recently COVID-19. The name COVID-19 is an abbreviation from Corona Virus Disease and 2019, the year the disease was discovered. Both SARS and MERS have been responsible for epidemics over the past two decades and are related to COVID-19. Symptoms of coronavirus infections vary with species that are infected. Pigs and cattle have gastro-intestinal diseases and birds and cats have respiratory diseases. However, there is no transmission to people in the U.S. from our domestic or food producing animals.
There is strong scientific evidence that the recent group of serious human coronavirus infections, SARS, MERS and COVID-19, have all originated from bats. COVID-19 has a 96% genetic match with a coronavirus recently found in a bat in China. Bats likely serve as asymptomatic carriers of these viruses. They have the infections without getting sick, but still can shed and transmit the virus to other animals or people. The bats are considered the maintenance host, that is, the virus remains in them and is the principle source of the disease long term. The recent group of serious human diseases caused by coronaviruses have also been isolated from a group of other animals that were infected from bats and then became carriers themselves, thus further spreading the diseases. These animals are termed intermediate hosts, meaning that they become infected as a species and can then amplify and further spread the virus. For example, the intermediate host for MERS is likely camels. Currently, the pangolin, an animal like a small anteater, is suspected of helping to initially spread COVID-19 after being infected from bats but this theory is still unproven and is being researched further. People can be infected either directly from bats but are usually infected from intermediate host animals. Pandemics occur when the viruses are capable of being transmitted from person to person without the involvement of animals.
Early evidence suggests that COVID-19 originated from bats found in “live-animal” markets in Wuhan, China. It is a common cultural practice in China for people to visit large markets with many live animals that are all mixed closely together. People mix with birds, mammals, reptiles and fish which are sold and often slaughtered onsite so that people get fresh meat for their meals. This practice allows people to come into close contact with a variety of animal species, including bats, that may be carrying coronaviruses or other infections. We know that this same practice was likely the source of the SARS pandemic in 2002-2003. Some bats are hunted and used for food in other cultures including China. Not all these viruses are easily transmitted to people and even if they do infect people, the infections are often limited because the transmission doesn’t easily occur from person to person. COVID-19 has been an exception. It has the unique capability of being readily transmitted from person to person; it is highly contagious and thus has spread rapidly across the globe as a pandemic.
Can Dogs and Cats Get Infected With COVID-19?
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there is currently no evidence that household pets can contract or spread COVID-19. The CDC has also confirmed that they have not received any reports that pets or other animals in the U.S. have become sick with COVID-19. In addition, public health officials state that that is no evidence or research to support the idea that human to pet transmission occurs. Dogs and cats can acquire their own type of coronavirus infections from each other and these usually result in mild illnesses. Importantly, these animal infections only circulate within the pet populations and are not transmitted to, nor infect people. Thus. there is very strong evidence, from many sources, that our pets do not contract COVID-19 and are not are sources of the infection.
Are There Diagnostic Tests Available for Pets for COVID-19 and Should I have My Pet Tested?
While there is a diagnostic test that is being developed for COVID-19 for pets, it is not commercially available today. More importantly, there is no reason to test pets since they are not being infected with COVID-19. If your pet develops a respiratory disease, the recommendation is to work with your veterinarian to test for other respiratory infections. However, because COVID-19 is a new disease, more information is always being discovered about the dynamics of the infection. COVID-19 will continue to be monitored in pets but today there is no reason to tests pets and there is no recommendation to do so.
What Should I Do with My Pet If I Contract COVID-19?
The CDC recommends that if you contract COVID-19, you should keep a distance from your pets just like you would do with other people while you are quarantined. While there have been no reports of any pets being infected or sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that you limit any contacts with your pets until more information is known about the virus. The concern is not that your pet will become infected, but it could possibly carry the virus on its fur or collar for a short time and transmit to another person. While this is feasible, it is certainly not a high risk. Yet out of an abundance of caution, it would be helpful, if possible, to have someone else care for you pet while you are sick. If this is not possible, be sure to wash your hands before and after interacting with your pet. Certainly petting, snuggling, kissing, being licked or sharing food should be avoided.
If I Don’t Have COVID-19, Should I Change How I Interact with My Pet?
If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pet as you normally would including walking, playing and feeding. You should still practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and ensure that you pet is clean and well groomed. While you will not contract COVID-19 from your pet, there are other diseases and parasites that can be transmitted.
How Should I Prepare for My Pet’s Care in the Event that I Am Infected with COVID-19?
You should develop a contingency plan for your pet just like you should be doing for you and your family. Identify a person, either in your household or a friend, to care for your pet should you contract COVID-19. Make sure that you have an emergency kit prepared with at least 2-3 weeks of food and any needed medications. It is probably a good idea to have an emergency kit available for your pet anyway, in case there are further restrictions on social distancing.
What If My Pet Needs to Go to The Veterinarian?
If you are not ill with COVID-19 or have another communicable disease like the flu, call your veterinarian and follow her/his recommendations to work out a schedule for a visit. While many routine veterinary visits can be rescheduled, work with your veterinarian to check when he/she believes the visit is most appropriate and safe. If your pet has an emergency, call ahead to find out about needed care or recommendations to be seen. If you are sick with COVID-19 or have been recently diagnosed, you must stay at home and minimize contact with other people and avoid unnecessary risks.