Responsible Pet Care

Can COVID-19 infect my pet?

Coronavirus in pets and humans: learn the differences!

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. (*)

For the original article, please visit Boehringer Ingelheim website

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the new SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus. As the numbers of cases spread throughout the planet, the growing concern about the well-being of humans and animals pose important questions around prevention and good practices in cases of a positive diagnosis. Beyond that, another essential doubt has been raised among pet owners: can dogs and cats also become infected, or transmit the virus?

So far, only few cases where a pet has been infected by humans are known across the world, among them two dogs in Hong Kong, and two cats in Belgium. Both dogs did not show any signs of disease, but one cat had respiratory and digestive disorders. Apart from that, a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, in New York, also tested positive, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (link is external).

To date, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (link is external) (OIE) and the World Health Organization (link is external) (WHO), there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in animals, though. There are four genera of Coronaviridae family (Alphacoronavirus, Betacoronavirsus, Gammacoronavirus and Deltacoronavirus) causing different diseases in different species of animals. The WHO highlights that, occasionally, people get infected with these viruses, which may then spread to other people. For example, SARS-CoV was associated with civet cats, and MERS-CoV is transmitted by dromedary camels.

The animal connection

Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed. Although the OIE states that current evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus emerged from an animal source, investigations are underway to find that source (including species involved) and establish the potential role of an animal reservoir in this disease.

In order to understand these differences, we talked to our veterinarians. Hervé Poulet, Global Head of Pet and Equine Vaccines, shares that despite the current lack of evidence that pets can transmit COVID-19, the OIE emphasizes that people who have contracted the disease should avoid very close contact with their pets. Furthermore, they should maintain good hygiene practices when handling them and caring for them – a practice that should be always adopted.

“Cats and dogs can also be affected by their specific Coronavirus, the Canine Enteric Coronavirus (CCoV), for example, which belongs to Alphacoronavirus genera and causes mild enteritis in dogs, infecting cells in the intestine,” says Hervé.

Jean-Philippe Tronel, Global Technical Director for Pets Vaccines, notes that vaccination against this animal disease already exists, and is present in some dog’s polyvalent vaccines in North America and some countries in Asia and Latin America. Furthermore, when looking at felines, there is the Feline Coronavirus (FCoV), which can cause a severe disease in cats, known as feline infectious peritonitis. A vaccine against it is available in some countries in Europe, Asia and North America.

Not the same Coronavirus

In contrast to that, humans can test positive for Betacoronaviruses - like the SARS-CoV-2 responsible for the current pandemic; the SARS-CoV, which caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome initially in China in 2002; and the MERS-CoV, responsible for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which appeared in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It is important to highlight there is no evidence of transmission from humans to animals in both diseases.

“Given these differences, treatment options for the different types of Coronavirus are definitely not the same. Among a growing sense of panic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been reports of people looking for vaccines against dog’s and cat’s Coronavirus in a desperate – and incorrect – way to seek immunization. For this reason, it is important to reinforce that those vaccines are exclusive for dogs or cats. There are no clinical trials to ensure neither the safety nor the efficacy for use in human beings,” highlights Hervé.

Last, but not least, Karin Botteon, Veterinary Affairs Consultant in the pet segment in Brazil, emphasizes that, more than ever, during this pandemic time, it is crucial to always search for advice with a veterinarian in case of any doubts. It is fundamental to reinforce the need of preventive medicine for pets, including the correct observation of vaccination programs.

“As most countries in the world are currently facing a series of movement restrictions, it is very important that pet owners contact their vets in order to get proper, professional information on good practices and the right advice for their own country and even region. Do not forget: when animals are healthy, humans are healthier, too,” concludes Karin.

(*) The situation regarding COVID-19 is continuously evolving. Research on all aspects, including infection pathways, is being carried out around the world, and no stone is being left unturned to find as much information as possible. To date, we understand there have been no scientific findings about any transmission of the disease from pets to humans.

We follow all related assessments and recommendations of international experts and in particular the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO). We will share new updates as they become available.

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