We have entered an interesting but scary time in world history, with the novel coronavirus sweeping us all off our schedules and out of our comfort zones. Such being the case, this may be a good opportunity to review current thoughts on the virus, and to lay out current thoughts on how the virus interacts with our pets.
COVID-19 (also referred to as SARS-COV-2 in some circles) causes fever +/- shortness of breath +/- coughing in people. According to the CDC, transmission of the virus is primarily from person to person, via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those showing symptoms are the main transmitters of the virus, though spread may be possible before the onset of symptoms. It is possible for transmission to occur from a person touching something that has the virus on it (such as a pet), then touching their mouth, nose or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main mode of transmission.
April 3, 2020 Update: Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases proclaimed today that aerosols emitted while an individual who is COVID-19 positive (and potentially asymptomatic) is speaking, are likely a mode of transmission of the virus. This emphasizes the need for social distancing (at least 6 feet between individuals) and is the justification for the new recommendation by the CDC that all citizens wear face masks when out and about.
A recent National Institute of Health study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the virus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard and for 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces. The greater survival time on plastic and stainless steel is thought to be associated with the virus staying moist longer on the latter surfaces. More importantly, the study showed that the virus can survive in respiratory droplets for up to 3 hours after being coughed out into the air, and that the finer droplets can remain airborne for several hours in still air.
With respect to pets, though two dogs in Hong Kong have tested positive, as well as one cat in Hong Kong and one in Belgium, no animals in the US have tested positive to date. Two large, commercial labs in the US (Antech and Idexx) have been testing samples submitted for respiratory PCRs (a test run primarily in coughing and/or sneezing dogs) for COVID-19. However, dogs with infected owners are not being tested in the US, since infected owners and those who interact with them should self-quarantine per current recommendations.
Neither of the positive Hong Kong dogs showed any symptoms associated with the virus and it is not clear why they were tested, but they were thought to have picked up the virus from their infected owners. The virus is not thought to be capable of replicating in dogs and a complete virus has not yet been isolated from the saliva of a dog. As such, dogs should not be capable of transmitting the virus to people.
The cat in Hong Kong was also asymptomatic, although the Belgian cat was tested after becoming symptomatic (vomiting, diarrhea, and unspecified respiratory symptoms) one week after their owner got sick with COVID-19. To prove definitively that this kitty was infected with COVID-19, they will be tested for antibodies after their quarantine is up. As of yet, there is no evidence that cats play a role in the propagation of the virus.
A word about other coronaviruses:
There is a long-known, widespread, coronavirus that infects dogs (canine coronavirus or CCoV). The more common strains of this virus affect the intestinal tract (CECoV) and usually result in a self-limiting diarrhea, although some dogs develop vomiting and diarrhea that require hospitalization. A less common strain affects the respiratory tract (CRCoV). It is one of the dozen or more agents that can result in “kennel cough”, a phenomenon involving one or more of a constellation of symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, reverse sneezing, eye or nasal discharge, loss of appetite and/or listlessness. An even less common strain (CB/05) can result in more severe disease, but is more common in Europe than it is in the US at this time.
There is also a long-known, widespread, coronavirus that infects cats (FCoV). This virus typically only results in mild, self-limiting diarrhea, if any symptoms result at all from infection. However, in some kitties who have been infected, the virus will undergo a mutation to a more virulent form, FIPV. FIPV results in one of two forms of disease, for which there is currently no therapy or cure.
A lot is unknown about COVID-19 but as our knowledge evolves, we will try to keep our clients (and other readers) updated as to what is being discovered.
Joyeeta De, DVM
Green Lake Animal Hospital
Ravenna Animal Hospital
Updated April 6, 2020