Layne worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and medical intern for several years before becoming a licensed veterinary technician (LVT).
Coronavirus in Dogs and Cats
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- COVID-19 Announcement
- Canine Coronavirus Highly Pathogenic for Dogs
- Situation Summary | CDC
CDC is closely monitoring a novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. See its background, source, and spread, and the latest on the situation in the U.S.
- Coronavirus | Human Coronavirus Types | CDC
CDC Human Coronavirus Types: Information about the six types of coronaviruses including MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV.
- WHO | SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)
- The whistleblower doctor who fell victim to China's coronavirus | World news | The Guardian
Li Wenliang was at the forefront of warning about the disease and treating sufferers before the virus took his life in Wuhan
- Canine Coronavirus Disease in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital
- Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) RT-PCR | Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
- Resources | Koret Shelter Medicine Program
- Canine Respiratory Coronavirus FAQ | American Veterinary Medical Association
Questions and answers about canine respiratory coronavirus: What is it? How is it transmitted, diagnosed and treated? Can it be prevented? Is there a vaccine?
- SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research
Subscription and open access journals from SAGE Publishing, the world's leading independent academic publisher.
- Dog tests 'weak positive' for coronavirus, a 1st case of human-to-canine infection | Live Science
However, it's highly unlikely that dogs can pass the virus on to humans.
© 2020 Laynie H
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 21, 2020:
Hi Liz, Thanks for reading. I hope you are staying safe and staying healthy. Wishing you the best.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 20, 2020:
This article gives pet owners useful advice and information.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), animals kept as human companions most susceptible to infection with COVID-19 are domestic cats, golden hamsters, ferrets, and New Zealand White rabbits. Other types of hamsters have also been shown to be susceptible to coronavirus.
Golden hamsters and ferrets have been shown to transmit COVID-19 to other members of their species, while New Zealand White rabbits do not spread the disease within their own population. Cats can transmit coronavirus to other cats, and a study has found that cats can even contract the virus from other cats via airborne transmission. Dogs have a low risk of infection and do not infect other dogs.
In addition to New Zealand White rabbits and ferrets, who are also kept as farmed animals, other farmed animals highly susceptible to infection with COVID-19 are American mink and raccoon dogs. Both species spread the disease within their own population, and mink can even infect humans. In late 2020, the emergence of a new COVID-19 mutation from Danish mink farming prompted the country to cull its entire population of up to 17 million farmed mink.
Wild animals highly susceptible to coronavirus are tigers, lions, snow leopards, pumas, Egyptian fruit bats, gorillas, white-tailed deer, marmosets, and macaques. Of those nine species, all but marmosets can also spread the disease to other animals.
Listen and Learn: Podcasts on New Coronavirus
In language everyone can understand, they explain how viruses move from one species to another, occasionally with devastating effects on the human population.
Additional Resources from the College:
Do pets or other animals get sick from SARS-CoV-2 like people do?
This answer depends on the species. Several species including cats (domestic and exotic), mink, dogs and non-human primates have all tested positive for the virus after exposure to a human with known or suspected SARS-CoV-2. Cats and mink are most likely to become symptomatic, when compared to dogs, and mink appear to have an increased likelihood of dying.
In experimental studies, cats are able to transmit the infection to other cats, and can become symptomatic. We also know that according to recent outbreaks on mink farms, mink can transmit the virus to other mink, and in rare circumstances, infected mink can transmit the virus to humans.
On October 9, 2020, the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture confirmed that at least 2,000 mink have died from the coronavirus at a Wisconsin mink farm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deployed a team to the scene to make sure the outbreak is controlled. For more information on the WI outbreak please visit: https://www.wisn.com/article/coronavirus-hundreds-of-mink-die-at-wisconsin-farm/34317985
To view an updated list of species that have had confirmed infections with SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, please visit: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_one_health/sars-cov-2-animals-us
Can animals transmit the new coronavirus to people?
The current COVID-19 pandemic is clearly driven by human-to-human spread of the coronavirus.
Although the exact origins of the pandemic are unknown, it is likely that the virus initially jumped from an animal species to a human, and then human-to-human spread became the primary mechanism of transmission.
The CDC notes that “based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.” There are no documented cases of dogs or cats spreading the virus to people.
The one species where there is evidence of transmission occurring is in mink. A Dutch team of veterinary scientists used whole genome sequencing to identify the source of COVID-19 transmission. Sixteen mink farms were included in the study, including 97 workers at the farms tested. Approximately two thirds (67%) of workers showed evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection (66/97 employees). After evaluating evidence from genetic testing, researchers in this study strongly suspect that at least some of the humans were directly infected by mink, although they note that additional research is needed in this area.
Mink continue to be a species experts are closely watching. In August 2020, the USDA announced that two mink farms in Utah had been affected by SARS-CoV-2. At this time, authorities report that no humans connected to those farms had been infected.
The CDC does remind everyone that there is no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur, or hair of pets.
Can pets get the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)?
Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are aware of pets worldwide, including dogs and cats, reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in people, after close contact with infected people. The USDA has received reports of cats becoming mildly sick from a SARS-CoV-2 infection, including one in Illinois, as well as dogs in the United States. For a complete list of dates of confirmed cases in animals in the United States, please see USDA’s website.
Researchers and authorities are constantly learning about the new coronavirus, but it appears it can spread from people to animals and between animals (particularly cats) in some situations.
It is advisable that pet owners and veterinarians strictly observe hand-washing and other infection-control measures, as outlined by the CDC when handling animals. Do not let pets interact with people outside the household. If you are sick with COVID-19, you should treat your pet like you would any person you interact with and minimize interactions as much as possible.
This is a rapidly evolving situation. We will update as new information becomes available.
Can I get COVID-19 from my pets or other animals?
According to the CDC, based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low.
However, they do recommend that since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals, such as washing your hands and maintaining good hygiene.
This includes the risk of animals carrying the virus on their fur or skin. Guidance does not recommend bathing pets or other animals even if the animal is exposed to the virus because it appears the virus cannot survive for long periods of time on this surface.
For more information on this topic please visit the CDC’s website.
Is there a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for dogs and cats?
At this time, there is no vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 for animals.
Veterinarians are familiar with other coronaviruses. Similar but different coronavirus species cause several common diseases in domestic animals. For example, many dogs are vaccinated for another species of coronavirus (canine coronavirus) as puppies. However, this vaccine does not cross protect for SARS-CoV-2.
Can veterinarians test for SARS-CoV-2 in pets?
Yes, but because of the minimal risk, USDA, CDC, AVMA, and others are not recommending pets be tested for SARS-CoV-2 at this time. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine has had the capability to test for the new coronavirus in pets since March 2020. The test request must be submitted by a veterinarian and must include the rationale for the test. Requests will then be sent to the state animal health officer and state public health veterinarian for approval on a case-by-case basis. In the event of a positive result, these same officials must be notified before the referring veterinarian. Please contact the diagnostic laboratory with any further questions at 217-333-1620.
What animal did SARS-CoV-2 originate from?
Previous novel human coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS, originated in horseshoe bats and passed through other species, such as palm civets and camels. Research is still ongoing to identify the suspected animal source for the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and any intermediate hosts it passed through.
If I am diagnosed with COVID-19, how do I protect my pet?
The American Veterinary Medical Association and the CDC recommend that anyone sick with COVID-19 should maintain separation from household pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would with other people. Although only a small number of pets have become sick due to SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. You should avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a mask and wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.
Should my pet wear a face mask in public?
No. Face masks may not protect your pet from disease transmission and may cause other breathing difficulties.
Should I wear a face mask?
The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public settings around people who don’t live in your household and when you can’t stay 6 feet away from others (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.
How do I protect my pet and myself from the new coronavirus?
We recommend that everyone follows the CDC guidelines, which are routinely updated as research and science continues to improve our understanding of the disease.
If someone needs to enter the residence of COVID-19 patient in order to care for a pet there, what precautions should be taken?
This information has been provided by Dr. Connie Austin, the State Public Health Veterinarian in Illinois.
Direct person-to-person contact is the most likely way that COVID19 is transmitted (e.g., being within 6 feet of an infected person) for at least 10 minutes. Additionally, the possibility exists for infection from contaminated surfaces (i.e., someone could touch a contaminated surface and then touch their face: nose, eyes, mouth), but that is believed to be a far less likely means of transmission. As time goes by, the amount of virus that is viable decreases on surfaces.
If someone needs to go into a house to feed/water/walk a pet(s) from a COVID-19 house/apartment, the following steps are recommended to reduce the risk to the entering person:
- Wear gloves and clothes that can be easily washed,
- Bring a plastic bag,
- Avoid as much as possible touching surfaces in the house,
- As you leave the house put gloves into the plastic bag,
- After you attend to the pet and go home, wash clothes and wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Wearing a cloth mask can protect others from your respiratory secretions as you go out in public.
If someone needs to take the pet(s) out of the house:
- Wear gloves and clothes that can be easily washed,
- Avoid as much as possible touching surfaces in the house,
- Have a leash or carrier to use to put the pet in so the pet can be taken out of the house safely,
- Keep the pets together and isolated away from other pets for 14 days out of an abundance of caution,
- Wash hands/clothes after leaving the house.
- Wearing a cloth mask can protect others from your respiratory secretions as you go out in public.
For additional information, refer to AVMA interim guidelines and consult your veterinarian.
What other precautions are recommended?
Visitation to nursing homes and long-term care facilities by service animals and their handlers should be discouraged at this time.
Some coronaviruses that infect animals can be spread to people and then spread between people, but this is rare. This is what happened with SARS-CoV-2, which likely originated in bats. The first reported infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person to person.
SARS-CoV-2 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking. At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. More studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.
Keeping pets healthy
Many pet owners are more worried about getting their animals sick than they are about contracting illness from their pets.
To keep your pets healthy, treat them as you would any family member: If someone in your house is sick, they should isolate themselves. Make sure your pet maintains social distancing the CDC recommends that pets not interact with anyone outside your household. When walking a dog, stay six feet away from other people (and animals) and avoid dog parks. Experts recommend washing your hands before and after interacting with a pet, just as you would with a fellow human.
The CDC and American Veterinary Medical Association do not recommend routine testing of pets at this time. (The AVMA answers pet owners’ frequently asked questions here.)