Author – Dr. Lisa McIntyre
Veterinarians are often overlooked by the general public as a resource when it comes to health crises, however, we are a critical component in the One Health movement and work in close collaboration with other authorities, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Case in point is the recent coronavirus outbreak.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a type of RNA virus with a “crown” of protein spikes around its envelope, which acts as a shield, ensuring the stability of the virus and its ability to cause infection.
A lot of what we know about the recent outbreak of the strain, dubbed 2019-nCoV/COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2), is based on information we know about other coronaviruses, including the strains that cause Feline Infectious Peritonitis, as well as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV in humans. (3)
How Does Coronavirus Spread?
Coughing, sneezing, and contact with aerosolized particles is the most likely way to acquire disease. (2)
Who is at Risk?
Humans and animals who have compromised immune systems due to age or existing disease are more susceptible to developing severe clinical signs resulting from infection with the COVID-19. Coronaviruses are most contagious when an individual is experiencing signs of the illness, such as coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing. (2)
Can Animals Get This Recent Strain of Coronavirus?
No – Currently, there is no evidence to suggest, nor do veterinarians have reason to believe, dogs and cats can become infected by 2019-nCOV or act as a reservoir for humans. (3)
Pet owners should maintain good hygiene, washing their hands well after contacting pets.
A Recent Case to Know About
A dog belonging to a coronavirus-infected individual in Hong Kong recently tested weakly positive for COVID-19. Oral, rectal, and nasal swabs were taken from this dog; the coronavirus was detected but actual infection was not confirmed. Environmental contamination could have been the cause of the weakly positive test. There is no evidence to suggest that cats and dogs can host 2019-nCoV or act as a reservoir for humans. (4)
Can Animals Spread Coronavirus to Humans?
No – It doesn’t appear that 2019-nCoV “jumps species” readily or is zoonotic, though handling of animals while ill is discouraged. (3)
Individuals who have confirmed cases of 2019-nCOV should restrict contact with other mammals, including pets, until cleared of infection.
All pet owners should maintain good hygiene, washing their hands for 20 seconds or more after contacting pets or surfaces routinely handled by the public.
If You Have Pet Health Concerns
If there are any changes in the health condition of your pets, advice from veterinarians should be sought as soon as possible.
If you do suspect your pet has been in contact with an individual exposed to 2019-nCoV and has become ill, contact your veterinarian prior to bringing your pet to a public place such as a clinic. As with most novel diseases, new information is gathered daily and is subject to change. (3)
The History of Animals & Coronavirus
- Coronaviruses belong to the family Coronaviridae. Alpha- and beta-coronaviruses usually infect mammals, while gamma and delta coronaviruses usually infect birds and fish. (3)
- The genetic code of this recent strain resembles a coronavirus which infects the Horseshoe Bat, though currently the main route of new infections appears to close contact with other humans and their secretions. (3)
Veterinarians and Coronaviruses
- Veterinarians have a long history of diagnosing and treating strains of coronavirus in domestic animals such as dogs, cats, and birds.
- Our patients are often the literal “canaries in the coal mine”; our experience, in everything from sequencing to managing coronavirus outbreaks, is critical to minimizing the global impact of COVID-19.
Types of Canine Coronaviruses
- Canine enteric (gastrointestinal) coronavirus (CCoV) was first identified in 1971.
- CCoV is found worldwide and generally causes a mild to severe, self-limiting diarrhea and anorexia in affected dogs.
- It is rarely fatal and is spread via a fecal-oral route; some dogs shed the virus without exhibiting signs of illness.
- Shedding of CCoV in the stool occurs most significantly 16 days post- infection and then intermittently thereafter.
- Puppies 5-12 weeks are the most susceptible population, as maternal antibodies wane and prior to vaccination.
- Dogs should be vaccinated for CCoV during their series of “puppy shots” and annually thereafter.
- There is no treatment other than supporting the dog with fluids and good nursing care as well as treating any concurrent bacterial diseases such as Campylobacter or Clostridial infections.
- CCoV vaccines are NOT protective against human respiratory variants of coronavirus, which will likely take 18 months or more to develop.
- CRCoV is an unrelated canine respiratory coronavirus discovered in 2003.
- It is genetically most similar to a bovine (cow) coronavirus and the coronavirus that causes the common cold in humans.
- It spreads via close contact among dogs exhibiting signs such as coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes.
- Along with several other pathogens including Bordetella Bronchiseptica and parainfluenza, it has been implicated in causing “kennel cough”.
- There is no vaccine for this strain of coronavirus and respiratory signs are usually mild and resolve in 14 days.
More here: Canine Respiratory Coronavirus FAQ
When & Where did the Recent Outbreak Begin?
The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei province, China; reports suggest a seafood and animal market may have been ground-zero for the epidemic. (1)
How Do I Avoid Infection?
If possible, stay away from infected individuals or those with respiratory symptoms by a distance of at least 6 feet. (2)
Coronaviruses are not particularly hardy in the environment, meaning its particles do not survive on surfaces or in the air for long periods of time. This makes proper hygiene essential in controlling the spread of disease. (2)
How Can I Help Contain the Spread of Coronavirus?
- Hand-washing with soap and water
- Staying inside if you are ill
- Disinfecting surfaces
- Staying clear of symptomatic humans and animals
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Cooking all animal products
Unfortunately, anti-viral treatment and an effective human vaccine are not yet available.
Are Face Masks Helpful?
Face masks are helpful in containing the secretions expelled by infected individuals. However, the best face masks are a special respirator mask called a N95. It is not readily available and is not the same as a standard surgical mask which protects a sterile surgical field from fluids expelled by the surgeon. (3)
What is the Current Status of the Recent Coronavirus Outbreak?
Given the sensitivity of the changing data, the most up-to-date information and advice on human infection can be found on the WHO (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019) and the CDC websites(https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/about/index.html).
The most up-to-date information related to animal health is available at https://www.oie.int/scientific-expertise/specific-information-andrecommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/.
About the Author – Dr. Lisa McIntyre is a practicing veterinarian and business owner since 1999.