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The Pandemic and Your Pets PDF Print E-mail
Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
May 2020

No evidence that dogs and cats spread the virus

PPix_PetTalk_0520et owners, rest assured. As of mid-April 2020, there have been no reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s zero evidence showing that companion animals are a source of the novel coronavirus in this country.

The CDC also states there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads to humans from contact with the skin or fur of pets, although past human coronavirus outbreaks (SARS and MERS) have been linked to such animals as camels and bats.

Canine and feline coronaviruses don’t infect people.

But some U.S. news outlets, e.g., ABC News, Bloomberg, and the New York Post, have reported that in Hong Kong on February 26, a 17-year-old Pomeranian whose owner tested positive for COVID-19 had also tested positive by an accredited WHO laboratory for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

As explained in an article published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) released results of the “weak positive” nasal and oral test, indicating a small amount of the virus RNA in the sample. Four samples taken within the following ten days also tested positive. Later antibody blood tests showed that the dog developed virus immunities, suggesting that infection did occur. The School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong believes the virus-infected dog owner spread the virus to the Pomeranian.

The dog tested negative on March 12 and 13, and was released from quarantine the following day. Neither the Pomeranian nor a young dog in the household showed signs of respiratory problems, but three days after its release, the Pomeranian died, most likely from other issues. Five days later, the second dog, a two-year-old German shepherd, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The AFCD tested 17 dogs and 8 cats whose owners tested positive for COVID-19 or had close contact with those who did, but only the two dogs tested positive.

In mid-March, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege in Belgium reported that a cat, whose owner was infected with SARS-CoV-2 and had traveled to Italy, also tested positive for the virus and showed symptoms of respiratory distress and diarrhea.

Although two dogs and a cat became infected with the virus, the dogs showed no symptoms, and there is little to no evidence that pets get sick with COVID-19 and zero proof they can spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to others.

Currently the CDC does not recommend routine testing of pets, but if testing is decided by local, state, or federal animal and public health officials, then state animal health officials will oversee the process. As of March 15, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has the ability to test animals for COVID-19.

Some health experts note that the tests given could not detect whether the coronavirus was replicating in the dogs or if the dogs had licked surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus. In order for the virus to spread, it must replicate in dogs in large amounts to be shed, but it is difficult for the virus to jump species.

To be cautious, Hong Kong authorities and the CDC recommend sound hygiene around animals, such as washing hands before and after contact with them, and to stop kissing them. People sick with COVID-19 should limit contact and sharing food with pets, wear a face mask, and ideally have other family members care for the pets in quarantine.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends that pet owners prepare an emergency kit full of 30 days’ worth of essentials like pet food, pet meds, and cat litter. Include a folder of vet records and have up-to-date collar ID tags with phone numbers and addresses. Most of all, the ASPCA asks you to not abandon pets because of COVID-19 fears.

Some good news: The ASPCA Relief & Recovery Initiative was launched in response to the pandemic, with $5 million committed to the effort, including a $2 million emergency relief fund aiding animal welfare organizations with their basic operations, vet services, and adoption/foster programs. Regional pet food distribution centers created in partnership with Petco Foundation will provide free food supplies in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and North Carolina.

In early April, the Associated Press reported the first known animal in the United States that tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Nadia, a four-year-old Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, is thought to have caught the virus from an infected employee. Six other big cats there also showed symptoms, including dry cough, wheezing, and appetite loss, but due to the stress of testing, only Nadia was tested. In late April, four additional tigers and three lions also tested positive.

 

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