COVID-19 – Revisited

Five months after the outbreak began, COVID is still very much in the news. None of us could possibly have imagined the magnitude of impact this virus would have on our daily lives, financially and on the world over.

First were the questions: could people catch COVID from their pets, and vice versa. Now, stories are appearing about pets dying, possibly as a direct result of COVID-19.


Are Pets at Risk from COVID-19?

That question is actually harder to answer than it would seem. Typically, Coronaviruses are relatively species-specific, that is, a feline Coronavirus infects cats, canine Coronavirus infects dogs, and bovine Coronavirus infects cattle.

COVID-19 is a novel Coronavirus (meaning prior to 2019 it was undetected) that is presumed to have jumped species and is now threatening humans. The susceptibility of other animals, including pets, to COVID-19 is considered to be relatively low, though infection in research settings has been demonstrated and positive cases have been reported in cats and dogs. The most serious clinical outcome of COVID-19 in humans, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), does not appear to be a clinical manifestation of COVID-19 in dogs or cats. For the most part, COVID-19 does not appear to cause any sort of serious illness in dogs or cats. It would appear that the clinical picture of COVID-19 for these animals may be the same as their regular species-specific Coronavirus, which typically causes minimal, if any, signs of mild self-limiting gastrointestinal upset or respiratory signs.

But What About Buddy?

If you’ve seen the story in the hyperlink above, you’ll see that Buddy’s family were very concerned that he may have died from COVID. According to the media article, veterinarians did review his case and there were questions as to his underlying health status and his cause of death was attributed to other conditions, not COVID. Not being his family veterinarian, I am not in possession of the details, so I will refrain from speculating as to the cause of his death beyond stating that there is little evidence for COVID causing serious disease in dogs.

Can COVID-19 Cause Serious illness in Compromised Animals?

The very few deaths reported in companion animals infected with COVID-19 have largely been attributed to concurrent health problems. That leads us two a few different questions: are pets infected with COVID at greater risk to contract other health problems? Are pets with underlying health disorders at greater risk of contracting COVID? Are pets in poor health at risk of dying from COVID? The short answer is that we still don’t really know. Though it is an extremely fast-growing area of interest, the research regarding clinical manifestations of COVID-19 in companion animals is minimal. That being said there are some things we do know.

We do know that the incidence of overt COVID-19 infection in companion animals is exceptionally low. We do know that the risk of transmission of the virus between pet parents and their companion animals is low. Cats and dogs pose little risk to their owners, and vice versa. Just because the risk is low, however, doesn’t mean we can’t work to mitigate it. Exactly how then, do we mitigate COVID?  It looks like the same recommendations we have for safeguarding our own health: physical distancing between pets and people outside of their family and practicing good hygiene. The best recognized forms of transmission of COVID are from physical contact and aerosols, that’s why distancing, masks, and hygiene are the recommended interventions to slow the spread of the virus. That doesn’t mean we should avoid contact with our pets, put masks on them, or sanitize their paws. It does mean that we should think about where we are going with our pets, who/what they are interacting with, and washing our hands after playing with them.

Keep safe and love your fur kids,

Dr. Sarah Dodd

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