The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Scientific and One Health Committees has recently released an advisory on ‘COVID 19 and companion animals’ for WSAVA members. The association, in collaboration with One Health, has prepared a list of frequently asked questions in the wake of the pandemic. The advisory emphasizes that there is still no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they can become sick. Apart from maintaining good hygiene practices, pet owners need not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets.
Can COVID-19 infect pets?
Currently there is limited evidence that companion animals can be infected with SARS-Cov-2 and no evidence that pet dogs or cats can be a source of infection to other animals or to humans. 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 with COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following: “You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, 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. If you are sick with COVID-19, 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, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.” Please check for new updates on CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#2019-nCoV-and-animals
If my pet has been in contact with someone who is sick from COVID-19, can it spread the disease to other people?
While we do not yet know for sure, there is limited evidence that companion animals can be infected with or spread SARS-Cov-2. We also do not know if they could get sick from this new coronavirus. Additionally, there is currently no evidence that companion animals could be a source of infection to people. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.
What should I do if my pet develops an unexplained illness and was around a person with documented COVID-19 infection?
We don’t yet know if companion animals can get infected by SARS-Cov-2 or sick with COVID-19. If your pet develops an unexplained illness and has been exposed to a person with COVID-19, talk to the public health official working with the person with COVID-19. If your area has a public health veterinarian, the public health official will consult with them or another appropriate official. If the state public health veterinarian, or other public health official, advises you to take your pet to a veterinary clinic, call your veterinary clinic before you go to let them know that you are bringing a sick pet that has been exposed to a person with COVID-19. This will allow the clinic time to prepare an isolation area. Do not take the animal to a veterinary clinic unless you are instructed to do so by a public health official.
What are the concerns regarding pets that have been in contact with people infected with this virus?
While COVID-19 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 limited evidence that companion animals including pets such as dogs and cats, can become infected with SARS-Cov-2. Although there is no evidence that pets play a role in the epidemiology of COVID-19, strict hand hygiene should be maintained by the entire clinical team throughout the veterinary interaction, especially if dealing with an animal that has been in contact with an infected person.
What should be done with pets in areas where the virus is active?
Currently there is limited evidence that pets can be infected with this new coronavirus. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, until we know more, pet owners should avoid contact with animals they are unfamiliar with and always wash their hands before and after they interact with animals. If owners are sick with COVID-19, they should avoid contact with animals in their household, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If they need to care for their pet or be around animals while they are sick, they should wash their hands before and after they interact with them and wear a facemask. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.
Should veterinarians start to vaccinate dogs against canine coronavirus because of the risk of SARSCov-2?
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 commercially available vaccines will provide cross-protection against the infection by 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].
What is the WSAVA’s response to reports that a dog has been ‘infected’ with COVID-19 in Hong Kong
Reports from Hong Kong indicated that the pet dog of an infected patient had tested “weakly positive” to COVID-19 after routine testing. The dog, which is showing no relevant clinical signs, was removed from the household, which was the possible source of contamination, on 26 February and it is currently under quarantine. Retesting was performed after the dog was put under quarantine to determine whether the dog was in fact infected or whether its mouth and nose were being contaminated with COVID-19 virus from the household.
The Hong Kong SAR Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that nasal, oral, rectal and faecal samples from the dog have been tested. On February 26 and 28, oral and nasal swabs were positive, while on March 2, only nasal swabs showed positive results. The rectal and faecal samples tested negative on all three occasions. Testing at both the government veterinary laboratory (AFCD) and the WHO accredited diagnostic human CoV laboratory at Hong Kong University (HKU) detected a low viral load in the nasal and oral swabs. Both laboratories used the real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method and the results indicate that there was a small quantity of COVID-19 viral RNA in the samples. It does not, however, indicate whether the samples contain intact virus particles which are infectious, or just fragments of the RNA, which are not contagious.
According to the AFCD, the “weak positive” result from the nasal sample taken 5 days after the dog was removed from the possible source of contamination suggested that the dog had a low-level of infection and that this was likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission. Gene sequencing of the COVID-19 virus from the dog, and its close contact persons who were confirmed infected, showed that the viral sequences were very similar, which indicates that the virus likely spread from the infected persons to the dog.
A blood sample was also taken from the dog on March 3 for serological testing and the result was negative. The AFCD states that the negative serological test result should not be interpreted to suggest that the dog was not infected with the virus. It is known in some asymptomatic or mild cases of human infections with other types of coronavirus that antibodies may not always develop. It is also not uncommon in the earlier stages of infections to have a negative serological result as it often takes 14 days or more for measurable levels of antibodies to be detected. Another blood sample will be taken later for further testing and AFCD will continue to monitor the dog.
WSAVA urges pet owners in areas where there are known human cases of COVID-19 to continue to follow the information in its Advisory, including washing their hands when interacting with their pets and, if sick, wearing face masks around them.
In the last few weeks, rapid progress has been made in the identification of viral etiology, isolation of infectious virus and the development of diagnostic tools. However, there are still many important questions that remain to be answered.
The most up-to-date information and advice on human infection can be found on the following websites:
• World Health Organization (WHO) (www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus2019)
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/about/index.html)
The most up-to-date information related to animal health can be found on the following website:
• World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
Note: WSAVA recognizes that not all recommendations will apply to all areas or all regions at all times, depending on the epidemiological risk and risk mitigation in the area. WSAVA encourages veterinarians to keep in close contact with, and follow the directions of, their local veterinary authority. The work of the WSAVA’s One Health Committee is kindly supported by the Purina Institute.