Pet Improvement: The latest on pets and COVID-19

In April, eight tigers and lions were diagnosed with COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo. This was a human-to-animal transmission. There is no evidence that pets can infect humans. (Photo courtesy of the CDC)

It is not surprising and very understandable that with any new and emerging infectious disease, everything we hear is constantly changing as research amps up. Thus, the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-coV-2, which causes the infection of COVID-19 in humans, is being passed along to pets. But not the reverse.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) stated, “In laboratory studies of experimental infection with SARS-CoV-2, ferrets, Syrian hamsters and cats — all animals that may be kept as pets — show potential for serving as animal models of human infection, but dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks do not.”

There have already been reports of human-to-feline transmission, such as at the Bronx Zoo, where in April, eight tigers and lions tested positive, and most were symptomatic. In these cases, it was believed that zookeepers transmitted the virus to the felines. According to the AVMA there have only been five pets in the world that tested positive, and most of these pets were from households with sick humans, which you can read more about at https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/sars-cov-2-animals-including-pets.

Yet in a recent study and a letter published on May 13 in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers are calling on the need to study the potential for human-to-cat-to-human transmission. Researchers from the Universities of Wisconsin and Tokyo, Japan in conjunction with several other institutes were involved in this research. More about that can be found at https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2013400.

The new study showed cats in a controlled laboratory setting can quickly and easily transmit the virus to other cats through nasal shedding. In addition, none of the cats they studied were symptomatic, so there would be little reason for the pet owner to suspect their cat was infected. These cats were able to clear themselves of the virus relatively quickly, in less than a week.

Thus, it makes it even more important to practice safe distancing and proper sanitization in order to protect your pets. When you come home, leave your shoes outside and disinfect them. Wash hands and disinfect prior to petting your animals. Do not let your cats out to roam. Ensure that you have emergency preparedness in place if you get sick. Who will take care of your pet? Is there enough food? If you are sick and must be around your pets, it is recommended that you wear masks and other precautionary measures.

The Center for Disease Control has issued interim guidance for household pets that reside in the home of persons infected with SARS-coV-2. Read that here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.

CDC recommends that any public or animal health professional or veterinarian should contact the State Public Health Veterinarian and report an animal that has been exposed to a person that is sick with COVID-19 and exhibiting any of the following signs: fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, nasal and/or ocular discharge, vomiting and diarrhea.

If you live in Oregon and are sick with COVID-19 and you believe your pet to be sick, then please contact your regular veterinarian for guidance. Remember that there are many more prevalent causes of the common symptoms, and those need to be ruled out as well.

This is the information for testing in Oregon: https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/agriculture/Documents/COVID-19/COVID19TestingAnimals%20.pdf.

Because testing is beginning to open up for pets, IDEXX Reference Laboratories has developed a SARS-coV-2 RealPCR test following the unique alignment of the published genetic assays for the virus from the human outbreak. The tests are now available for veterinarians to use given certain parameters that are specific in each state.

Our companion animals provide an incredible role in relieving stress and giving us love, joy and comfort. That helps keep us healthy. Just remember that your pets are constantly exposed to a plethora of pathogens on an ongoing basis and typically process these without any issue. The cats in the SARS study were healthy and cleared the virus quickly with no symptoms. Perhaps researchers might even find that healthy pets that adequately neutralize the SARS virus might help boost the immune systems of the persons in the households.

Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]

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