Coronavirus and Pets: How COVID-19 Affects Cats and Dogs


A stray cat on the streets of an empty Istanbul.

Getty / Anadolu Agency

For the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Coronaviruses have lived and thrived in animals for thousands of years, but only a handful are known to cause disease in humans. The coronavirus at the center of the current pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, is incredibly effective at spreading from human to human. Beginning of April – only four months after its first detection – on the virus has infected more than a million people and extended to more than 180 countries.

It turns out that SARS-CoV-2 can also hijack animal cells. Scientists believe the disease originated in Chinese horseshoe bats before jumping into an intermediate animal and from there finding its way into humans. The virus is able to inject into cells by binding to a cell surface protein called ACE2, which is found in many animal species.

Some media reports have shown that the coronavirus can infect our pets – and more exotic species like tigers and lions – but cases are rare. Transmission of the disease from humans to animals appears to be low, and there is no reason to believe that you could get the disease from a feline friend who wandered the neighborhood. The World Health Organization says there is “no evidence that a dog, cat or pet can transmit COVID-19”.

Still, pet owners are naturally concerned about the health of their furry babies and how COVID-19 could affect them. Here we have gathered everything you need to know about coronavirus and your pets, as well as emerging research on how animals can spread or be affected by coronavirus. If you have additional questions, you can contact by email or give give me a boost on Twitter.

Where does coronavirus come from?

This coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is what we call a zoonosis: it has passed from an animal species to man.

By studying the genetic makeup of the coronavirus and comparing it to a library of previously known coronaviruses, experts suggest that the virus probably appeared in Chinese horseshoe bats, before jumping to an intermediate species in close contact with humans. Some scientists believe that the middleman could be the pangolin, an ant-scaly mammal that has historically harbored coronaviruses and is one of the most illegally trafficked animals in the world.

The pangolins were sold in a Chinese live animal market often cited as the “epicenter” of the epidemic, but the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a detailed report on patients infected with the disease, noting that all first identified patient had do not been exposed to the animal market.

Whatever the origin of SARS-CoV-2, we know that coronaviruses are capable of establishing residence in all kinds of species – whether or not they cause disease is a question that always needs to be answered and that is important. Epidemiologists will want to know which species can harbor the virus to better understand where it can persist in the environment and how likely it is to return to humans in the future.

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Can coronavirus infect cats and dogs?

Coronaviruses are not particularly difficult to satisfy with respect to potential hosts – they have been detected in many species of mammals and birds, including dogs and cats, as well as in livestock such as cows, chickens and pigs.

Several reports have provided evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in pets. A 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong repeatedly tested “weakly positive” for coronavirus in March and died later. A cat in Belgium tested positive for the disease on March 24.

“These pets lived with infected human owners, and the timing of the positive result demonstrates a human-to-animal transfer. “Said Jacqui Norris, veterinarian at the University of Sydney in Australia. “The virus culture on these pets was negative, which means that no active virus was present. “

A study by researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China, uploaded to bioRxiv on March 30 and not yet peer reviewed, examined the sensitivity of a number of species to COVID-19, including including cats and dogs, using a small number of animals.

“People seem to pose more risks to their pets than to us. “

Glenn Browning, veterinary microbiologist

The results demonstrated that cats can be infected with the coronavirus and may be able to transmit it to other cats via respiratory droplets. The team placed infected animals in cages next to three animals without the disease and discovered, in one case, that the virus had spread from cat to cat. The cats, however, showed no outward signs of illness.

Dogs seem more resistant. Five 3-month-old beagles were inoculated with SARS-CoV-2 through the nasal canal and housed with two dogs that had not received the virus. After a week, the virus had not been detected in any dog, but two had generated an immune response. The two dogs that did not get the virus did not get it from their kennel companions.

One of the main points to remember, as Nature pointed out, is that these experiments were performed in the laboratory and that large doses of coronavirus were used to infect animals, which probably does not reflect actual conditions. However, cats appear to be prone to infection and the authors note that additional monitoring should be considered.

IDEXX Reference Laboratories, a consortium of test laboratories around the world, announced in March that it has created a test kit for felines and canines. After testing more than 4,000 samples from the United States and South Korea, he found no positive results. The United States Department of Agriculture has declared that it will not test pets unless animal and public health officials accept the tests due to a “link to a known human case of COVID- 19 “.

Can other animals be infected with SARS-CoV-2?

Many species are susceptible to infection because they contain a protein known as the angiotensin 2 converting enzyme, or ACE2.

Indeed, the virus itself is covered with thorny projections which can lock onto the ACE2 proteins on the surface of animal cells. The coronavirus “spikes” then lock in place and divert the cell to replicate.

Using computer and modeling databases, the researchers looked at the species’ genes to see if the ACE2 protein in their cells could be used by SARS-CoV-2. A recent study, published in the journal Microbes and Infection on March 19, showed that SARS-CoV-2 can cling to the ACE2 receptor in many different species – including bats, civets and pigs – and predicts that it will might also be able to do this in goats, sheep, horses, pangolins, lynx and pigeons.

Research by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China suggests that the virus replicates poorly in chickens, ducks and pigs.

The first confirmed case of coronavirus in an animal in the United States was documented on April 5, when Nadia, 4, a Malaysian tiger at the Bronx Zoo, was found to have contracted the virus, possibly from an infected but asymptomatic zoo keeper.

Can I get COVID-19 from my pet?

There is still much we do not know about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, but the most important point to reiterate: there is a lack of evidence that the coronavirus is spread by pets and animals. pets.

“There is absolutely no evidence that pets play a role in the epidemiology of this disease,” said Trevor Drew, director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Drew and his colleagues at the AAHL are test vaccines in ferrets in preclinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of new treatments. Ferrets are used in the test because they are particularly susceptible to coronavirus infection. However, even ferret owners are unlikely to get sick from their furry friends.

Drew notes that AAHL researchers do not see “overt clinical disease” in their ferrets, but “they appear to have a mild temperature and are reproducing the virus.” SARS-CoV-2 may infect these animals, but cannot reproduce enough to cause all of the symptoms that define human COVID-19.

You may also be wondering if you can remove it from your pet’s fur? The risk is low – but not zero – because coronavirus can survive on surfaces and can be transmitted via droplets. In theory, it can persist on the fur, so you should always wash your hands before and after interacting with them if you don’t feel well.

“People seem to be more at risk for their pets than we are,” said Glenn Browning, veterinary microbiologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

How can I protect my pets?

If you do not feel well and think you have contracted COVID-19, the first thing to do is to get tested. If you think you are not feeling well, the recommendation from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to “limit contact with pets and other animals, as you would with other people.” .

The best protection method is prevention. There are a large number of resources available from WHO to reduce your risk of infection, and the main measures are described below:

  • Wash your hands: for 20 seconds and no less! You can get it practical tips for hand washing here.
  • Maintain a social distance: Try to keep at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from anyone who coughs or sneezes.
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes or mouth: a difficult task, but this is how the virus initially enters the body.
  • Respiratory hygiene measures: cough and sneeze in your elbow!

If you are sick, you may consider quarantining your pets at home and limiting your contact with them as much as possible. You don’t have to isolate them, but try to limit them to one or two rooms in the house, wear a mask when you surround them and – yes, we repeat – wash your hands.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19 in dogs and cats?

As with humans, no COVID-19 vaccine is available at this time. There is a vaccine against canine coronavirus, but it is directed against another member of the coronavirus family and does not provide protection against COVID-19 (Note: The Australian Veterinary Association does not even recommend it for this virus).

There is many ongoing clinical trials in humans and a range of different treatment options. While some could theoretically be modified for different species (and some will even be tested at home), the most promising vaccines in development today are designed only for use in humans.


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