What pet owners and veterinarians need to know about the coronavirus

 

illustration of the coronoavirus
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (CDC photo by Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM)

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) says veterinarians and pet owners should not panic about contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19). There are few cases in the United States, and it is highly unlikely that people could contract the new coronavirus (previously called 2019-nCoV) from their dog or cat, or that their companion animal could transmit the virus to people or other animals.

The association has prepared an advisory document offering guidance to help its members when talking with pet owners concerned about the risk of infection with COVID-19, following the outbreak in China.

man in blue plaid shirt and necktie
Dr. Michael Lappin

Dr. Michael Lappin, professor of Infectious Disease at the CSU James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and chair of the association’s One Health Committee, recommends that veterinarians tell owners to:

• Keep their companion animals with them if they are self-quarantined
• Keep cats inside
• Arrange care for any animals left at home if family or friends are hospitalized
• Contact their veterinarian immediately if they have questions or concerns.

The advisory, produced by the WSAVA Scientific Committee and One Health Committee with input from the Centers for Disease Control, confirms that there is currently no evidence that pets or other domestic animals can be infected with COVID-19 or that they may be a source of infection to people. They do warn, though, that it is a rapidly evolving situation.

The advisory also cautions veterinarians against using vaccines against canine enteric coronavirus available in some global markets in the hope that they may offer some cross-protection against COVID-19. There is no evidence for this, as the new virus is a distinctly different coronavirus variant.

“There is still much we don’t know about COVID-19 and, while the priority is to bring the outbreak of the infection caused to people under control as soon as possible, we are concerned for animal welfare with reports of animals being abandoned or killed because their owners fear that they might carry the virus,” said association president Dr. Shane Ryan. “There is no evidence that this is necessary and we urge our members to ensure owners follow our guidance and keep themselves and their companion animals safe.”

The following FAQ is excerpted from the WSAVA advisory:

Can the virus infect domestic animals?

Currently there is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals can be infected with this new coronavirus. Additionally, there is currently no evidence that pets or other domestic animals might be a source of infection to people with the new coronavirus. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.

Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick?

Do not handle pets or other animals while sick. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, several types of coronaviruses can cause illness in animals and spread between animals and people. Until we know more, avoid contact with animals and wear a face mask if you must be around animals or care for a pet in order to protect the pet from the possibility of disease transmission.

What should I do if my pet or other animal becomes ill and was around a person with novel coronavirus?

If your pet or other animal becomes ill, call your veterinarian to let them know that you are bringing a sick pet that was exposed to a person with the new coronavirus. Do not take the animal to a veterinary clinic until you have had a discussion with clinic staff. Tell them about any contact the animal may have had with someone with COVID-19 infection.

If my pet or other animal has been in contact with someone who is sick, can they spread the disease to other people?

We do not yet know if animals can get infected. We also do not know if they could get sick from this new coronavirus. Currently there is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals can be infected with this new coronavirus. Additionally, there is currently no evidence that pets or other domestic animals might be a source of infection to people with the new coronavirus. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.

What are the concerns regarding pets that have been in contact with people infected with this virus?

While this virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person-to-person. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses. Importantly, there is no data to date that dogs and cats can become infected with COVID-19.

What should be done with animals in areas where the virus is active?

Currently there is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals can be infected with this new coronavirus. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, several types of coronaviruses can cause illness in animals and spread between animals and people. Until we know more, avoid contact with animals and wear a facemask if you must be around animals or care for a pet. However, people diagnosed with COVID-19 should stay away from pets to help protect the pet from the potential for disease spread.

How can I help protect myself and my clinic staff?

Visit the 2019-nCoV Prevention and Treatment page to learn about how to protect yourself from respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19. Consult the CDC’s coronavirus page for more detailed information.

Should veterinarians start to vaccinate dogs against canine coronavirus because of the risk of COVID-19?

The canine coronavirus vaccines available in some global markets are intended to protect against enteric coronavirus infection and are NOT licensed for protection against respiratory infections. Veterinarians should NOT use such vaccines in the face of the current outbreak, thinking that there may be some form of cross-protection against COVID-19. There is absolutely no evidence that vaccinating dogs with the commercial available vaccines will provide cross-protection against the infection by the COVID-19, since the enteric and respiratory viruses are distinctly different variants of coronavirus. No vaccines are currently available in any market for respiratory coronavirus infection in the dog. [Information from the WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines Group].

The WSAVA represents more than 200,000 veterinarians worldwide through its 113 member associations. Its core activities include the development of WSAVA Global Guidelines in key areas of veterinary practice, including pain management, nutrition and vaccination, and the provision of continuing education. The work of the One Health Committee is supported by WSAVA Diamond Partner, Purina Institute.