Fact or Fiction: Can Dogs and Cats Get Coronavirus?

Updated on May 17, 2020
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and medical intern for several years before becoming a licensed veterinary technician (LVT).

Can pets (cats and dogs) get COVID-19?
Can pets (cats and dogs) get COVID-19? | Source

Dogs and Cats Can Get Coronaviruses (But It's Not What You Think)

Coronaviruses affect many species including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. In some species, these symptoms present as respiratory disease, and in others, diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset. These known viruses come from a large family of viruses (coronaviruses) that cause symptoms much like the common cold and SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Occasionally, these viruses can spread across species via zoonosis (zoonotic transmission means transmission from animals to people), which explains the development of MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

MERS-CoV, which first appeared in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, causes respiratory illness and is characterized by fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. It is thought to have first developed in bats and later transferred camels. SARS-CoV, another coronavirus, was first reported in 2003. Its origin is also thought to be from an animal reservoir—likely a bat—which later spread to animals (civet cats) and first appeared in Guangdong province in China.

"Considering this information in total, infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations (CDC, OIE, WHO) agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.

— American Veterinary Medical Association

Can My Dog or Cat Get Coronavirus Disease?

While fear is at an all-time high, many pet owners are left wondering—can COVID-19 affect my dog or cat? The short answer is no, as cats and dogs are affected by species-specific coronaviruses which have been documented for years. But you'll still want to practice precautions that fall in-line with social isolation. We'll discuss this further below.

Coronaviruses are hosted in a variety of species.
Coronaviruses are hosted in a variety of species. | Source

What Is COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)?

At the start of 2020, the world came to a standstill with the COVID-19 pandemic. On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public healthy emergency of international concern in response to what has been termed COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 (formerly 2019-nCoV). On March 11, a global pandemic was declared. On March 13, President Trump declared COVID-19 to be a national emergency within the United States.

The new virus behind this global pandemic has been termed COVID-19 or (Corona Virus Disease 2019). It is thought that the first case appeared or was documented on November 17 of 2019 in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. Unfortunately, reports state that early whistleblowers in the medical field were reprimanded by their government. Ai Fen, director of Emergency at Wuhan Central hospital said she was silenced over alerting her superiors to what resembled SARS-CoV-like symptoms.

In addition, ophthalmologist Li Wenliang alerted colleagues to the potential outbreak in late December and even suggested that medical field personel wear PPE. He was asked to sign a statement that prevented him from commenting further about the suspected virus. Sadly, he later died on February 6th.

Social isolation offers an opportunity to bond with your pet.
Social isolation offers an opportunity to bond with your pet. | Source

Can My Dog Pass Coronavirus Disease on to Me?

There was a report of a “weak positive” for a dog that had apparently lived with a woman who tested positive for COVID-19. It is possible, however, that this weak positive resulted from the animal picking up the virus from the environment it lived in via a contaminated surface or airborne exposure. Although experts at the University of Hong Kong, City University and the World Organization for Animal Health agreed to quarantine and inspect the dog as a precaution . . . the chances of this type of transmission via contact is rare or nonexistent (note: current reports reflect this). According to the AVMA:

"On Thursday, February 27, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that samples obtained on February 26 from the nasal and oral cavities of a pet dog (a 17-year-old Pomeranian whose owner had been diagnosed with COVID-19) had tested “weak positive” for SARS-CoV-2, using a real time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR) test. A fecal sample was negative."

Note: I am not an epidemiologist. Please read the COVID-19 AVMA announcement from March 15, 2020.

Practice Necessary Precautions

Limiting social contact and practicing social distancing includes keeping our animals to leash walks unless you have access to a large open space. Although the chances of your dog picking up the virus from interacting with another dog in a COVID-19 positive household is highly unlikely per current data, it is in your best interest to stay indoors, keep your dog leashed, and to practice good hygiene to the best of your ability. This means washing hands with soap, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding surfaces in public that could host COVID-19, not touching your face, and self-quarantining.

Follow Recommended Protocols

Making sure you have enough emergency supplies for your pet is critical. Consider having any medications in stock and adequate food for your pet—even if that means purchasing a different food brand for the time being.

Domestic cats host a feline-specific coronavirus.
Domestic cats host a feline-specific coronavirus. | Source

Coronavirus Infections in Cats

Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is a common viral infection that affects domestic cats and does not affect humans. In most of the affected, it presents as mild diarrhea, however, sometimes the virus can mutate and develop into FIP or feline infectious peritonitis. The virus sheds within a few days of infection and antibodies develop within 7 to 14 days.

It is often difficult to distinguish this disease from others that affect cats. Many cats can pass this virus on their own (not FIP), but some do not. Even cats that do not show symptoms and are asymptomatic can shed the virus in their feces. Coronavirus is generally most problematic in feral populations and animal shelters where cats exists in crowded spaces due to viral shedding.

Several Strains of Feline Coronavirus

There are actually several strains of feline coronavirus that can be either "wet" effusive or "dry" non-effusive (FIP) disease. The sad news is that FIP is most often fatal. FIP is a mutation of the coronavirus and is characterized as rare, although it commonly causes death in young cats. It is a mutation of the feline coronavirus FCoV and causes weeks to months of progressive disease.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis or FIP

The virulent version of this virus is often referred to as FIPV. FIPV is not transmitted between cats and is more a result of susceptibility based on the cat’s unique immune response. It can develop within weeks or 18 months after infection—sometimes triggered by stress. It appears in young and old populations, but adults are generally unaffected. Diagnosis is usually made by clinical signs which include effusion in the chest or abdomen (fluid in these spaces). Other diagnostics such as signalment, blood work, and clinical signs can help confirm a diagnosis. These tests may reveal hyperproteinemia and leukocytosis (neutrophilia and lymphopenia).

Symptoms in Cats

FIP is often diagnosed by confirming the presence of clear to yellow exudate within the abdomen. Because this exudate has a high protein content, it’s usually the same consistency as egg whites. Collection is typically done by tapping the abdomen for a fluid sample.

The good news is that with recent developments, this once fatal virus is showing a turnaround with clinical trials of anti-viral medications (although such anti-virals are not yet approved by the FDA— making it difficult for veterinarians wishing to pursue this type of treatment). For now, the disease is still largely considered untreatable. FIP cats are generally supported medically and often given the gift of humane euthanasia.

Keep your pets current on their vaccinations.
Keep your pets current on their vaccinations. | Source

Coronavirus Infections in Dogs

Similar to the feline coronavirus, CCoV type I and type II are highly infectious in dogs, although they do not affect humans. Symptoms of CCoV are often mild and self-limiting, resulting in lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea and last 1 to 2 weeks (however, highly pathogenic variants have been observed). In severe cases, hemorrhagic enteritis (intestinal bleeding), damage to the lungs, and an enlarged spleen were observed.

Symptoms in Dogs

Another variant of coronavirus called CRCoV (canine respiratory coronavirus) causes respiratory illness in dogs. It is similar to the bovine coronavirus (causing infections in cattle) and the virus that that is responsible for causing the common cold in humans. It is dissimilar to CCoV type I and II (mentioned above) which result in gastrointestinal issues. CRCoV causes respiratory infections and is grouped with viruses and bacteria that cause kennel cough in dogs or canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD).

This disease often presents in shelters and areas of high density such as boarding facilities. It is transmitted via respiratory secretions (coughing and sneezing) and can live on surfaces and be transferred via hands and clothing from human contact. Supportive therapy is often used as are antibiotics and quarantining. No vaccine exists for CRCoV but but those who have recovered are at reduced risk for reinfection. In most cases, rigid quarantine protocols (isolation) and sanitation are used to prevent viral spread.

I am not an epidemiologist. Research is rapidly changing surrounding COVID-19. Always abide by recommended precautions. As always, think of others and act with compassion and kindness during one of the largest pandemics in world history.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Layne Holmes

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    • Layne Holmes profile imageAUTHOR

      Layne Holmes 

      3 months ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Liz, Thanks for reading. I hope you are staying safe and staying healthy. Wishing you the best.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 months ago from UK

      This article gives pet owners useful advice and information.

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