The coronavirus pandemic is currently sweeping the world infecting humans, but the big question on pet owners minds is “Can my pet catch coronavirus?”. The short answer: it’s unlikely, but it’s a little more complicated than that. To answer this question, we need to understand what coronavirus is. A ‘coronavirus’ refers to a large family of enveloped virus species which generally only infect specific animal groups (e.g. dogs, cats, cattle, humans). The current virus species infecting humans and responsible for the pandemic is known as COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2.
Currently there have been three reported cases of domestic animals testing positive for COVID-19: Two dogs in Hong Kong and one cat in Belgium. In all cases the owners were positive for COVID-19 and believed to have infected the animal through close contact. The dogs displayed no clinical signs, however the cat did show gastrointestinal and respiratory signs. To this date, there have been no reports of COVID-19 in domestic animals or wildlife in Australia . Large scale testing of animals globally has shown human to animal transmission of COVID-19 to be a very unlikely risk . With all this in mind, there is currently no evidence of animal to human transmission or that pets play a role in the spread of COVID-19. The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and IDEXX Laboratories, who developed the test, have all stated that there is no indication for testing companion animals for COVID-19 at this time .
Separate to humans, both dogs and cats do have coronavirus species that can affect them exclusively and veterinarians have been managing and treating these diseases long before the outbreak of COVID-19.
Canine enteric coronavirus (CCoV) is commonly diagnosed in younger dogs and dogs frequenting high traffic areas (e.g dog park, boarding kennels, day care). The disease can present as vomiting, diarrhoea, inappetence, lethargy and progressive dehydration. Diagnosis of canine enteric coronavirus is obtained by sending faeces to an external laboratory for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. There is no specific treatment for canine enteric coronavirus and management is based solely on supportive care and correction of dehydration. In more serious cases this may include hospitalisation for intravenous fluid therapy and treatment for secondary complications of dehydration and gastrointestinal injury. Most dogs recover from canine enteric coronavirus within a week however can shed the virus in faeces for up to two weeks. The recent mystery gastroenteritis swept through dogs in the Northern Beaches is suspected to be a more virulent strain of canine coronavirus (Boehringer).
Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is a common virus which infects the majority of the population of cats living in multi-cat households or colony situations (e.g. breeders, rescue centres and stray cats) due to its highly infectious nature. The virus is shed in faeces and is seen more frequently in young cats. Most cats are asymptomatic or have mild diarrhoea which resolves without specific treatment.
Unfortunately in some cats with feline coronavirus the virus can mutate into feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV) which is a fatal disease. Diagnosis of FIPV is not achieved by a single test, but based on clinical signs and a combination of tests depending on initial examination findings (e.g. Blood and urine testing, abdominal ultrasounds, effusion analysis). There is sadly no successful treatment or cure for FIPV.
Just like COVID-19, prevention of spread of coronavirus in dogs and cats is by practicing good hygiene. This means:
So, to answer the initial question: can pets get coronavirus? Pets are unlikely to get COVID-19, however they can get their own species of coronavirus which generally presents as mild gastrointestinal disease.
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