Following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), pet owners are becoming concerned about the virus and whether it will affect their pets. To help owners understand the current situation, we’ve compiled some expert comments from FirstVet’s Dr Jessica May, as well as the updated advisory from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.

Dr Jessica May, a UK Lead Vet at video vet service, FirstVet, explained, “The most frequent questions that pet owners ask our vets are: can my pet get COVID-19, and can humans catch the virus from their pets?

“The short answer is no: there are currently no suspicions that pets can be infected, or that they can spread COVID-19 to humans. That said, there are numerous strains of coronavirus that affect animals: canine coronavirus (CCV), which is highly contagious amongst dogs, and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), which is an illness that can manifest from coronavirus infection in cats. These strains of the virus spread from animal to animal, but cannot be transmitted to humans.”

“Given that we are in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, and animal-based coronaviruses do exist, people are, naturally, concerned that they could contract the disease from their pets and vice versa. As it stands, animal coronaviruses are not showing increased numbers; however, if you believe that your pet is showing even mild signs, it would be useful to contact a video vet service, such as FirstVet, before rushing to your vet clinic.

“This reduces the risk of spreading infectious diseases, reduces the stress associated with taking your pet to the clinic, and the vet will be able to provide the most appropriate advice for you and your pet.”

What do we know so far?

A wide variety of coronavirus strains occur worldwide, and some of these also affect our pets in the UK. Canine coronavirus disease in dogs (CCV) does not affect people but is highly infectious for dogs and causes sporadic outbreaks of intestinal infection, which is short-lived but tends to cause significant abdominal pain. CCV was first detected in 1970 and has since been found across the world, but it is not the disease currently circulating in the UK.

Most cases of CCV arise due to oral contact with infected faecal matter, as well as from contaminated food bowls, or nose to nose contact with an infected dog. Crowding and unsanitary conditions also favour transmission. Dogs may not show signs for up to four days after exposure and clinical signs usually last for between two and 10 days.

The infection is usually subclinical and dogs show very few clinical signs. Occasionally, dogs develop sudden-onset diarrhoea with a decreased appetite and lethargy. Mortality is low, but deaths have been reported. The infection is typically more severe in puppies, which have a weaker immune system. There is no treatment for CCV since the infection usually resolves by itself.

The Pomeranian of an infected owner was tested ‘weakly positive’ for COVID-19 in Hong Kong, after swabs were taken from its nose and mouth in routine testing. The dog, which is showing no relevant clinical signs, was removed from the household and was placed under quarantine where re-testing was performed to determine whether the dog was in fact infected or whether its mouth and nose were being contaminated with COVID-19 virus from the household.

Hong Kong SAR Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s (AFCD) document states that there is still no evidence at this time that pet animals including dogs and cats could be a source of infection to other animals or humans.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is urging pet owners in areas where there are known human cases of COVID-19 to continue to follow the information in its Advisory, including washing their hands when interacting with their pets and, if sick, wearing face masks around them. 

The WSAVA’s full Advisory is available here.

When should you contact a vet?

The signs of coronavirus can easily be confused with other diseases, so please seek veterinary advice if your cat or dog has diarrhoea that does not resolve within 24 hours, or is associated with significant lethargy or loss of appetite.

Images by Pixabay

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