« Can pets catch coronavirus? » | This article provides pet owners with an update about what veterinarians know about coronavirus disease in cats and dogs. It also explains what is currently understood about Covid-19 in relation to pets and their owners.
- This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, book a video appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian.
Yes, pets can catch coronaviruses called CCoV and FCoV
In pets (cats and dogs), coronaviruses are also known as canine coronavirus (CCoV) and feline enteric coronavirus (FCoV). Those viruses are part of the Coronaviridae family and exhibit a single strand of RNA as opposed to other types of viruses made of DNA.
Cats and dogs become infected with coronaviruses through ingestion of faecal material (contaminated surfaces). However, there is no known contamination of humans following interaction with CCoV and FCoV.
Once ingested, those viruses will infect some specific parts of the small intestine cells. This will trigger the symptom of diarrhea. In the environment, those viruses have potential to infect cats and dogs for up to 3 days or longer, depending on the temperature.
How do coronaviruses affect cats and dogs?
CCoV and FCoV are responsible for gastrointestinal disturbances in pets. The virus will induce diarrhea and vomiting. Puppies and kittens are more prone to this infectious disease.
Additionally, CCoV and FCoV are highly contagious which means they will spread quickly between individuals. Thus, locations where cats and dogs are gathered such as catteries, shelters, breeding farms or multi-cat households are classified as high risk environments.
In cats and dogs, depending on their age, the symptoms might not be visible. So an adult carrying CCoV/FCoV will appear healthy. Puppies and kittens affected by a coronavirus will show signs of vomiting and diarrhea. Those signs might be accompanied by lethargy and weight loss. Sometimes, blood can be visible in the faecal material, although this is not very common.
In cats, the presence of feline enteric coronavirus poses a bigger threat due to its potential to randomly mutate (whilst inside the cat) into a variant able to trigger a condition called FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). This disease is fatal to cats if their immune system is not able to fight it appropriately.
How to address coronavirus disease in cats and dogs?
For those young animals undergoing gastrointestinal symptoms, supportive and nursing care will be delivered, depending on the severity and individual requirements.
In puppies the prognosis is good, provided there is no other serious condition involved. Following infection with FCoV, cats will not necessarily develop FIP, however a mutation of the virus is not excluded. So, for this reason, the outcome might be less certain.
However, a study published in 2006, reported an outbreak of fatal cases in puppies due to a mutated variant of canine coronavirus. The authors explained it was the first time such fatal infections were reported in dogs.
Since CCoV and FCoV are highly contagious between individuals, it is essential to not keep groups of cats (or dogs), especially very young ones, in overcrowded spaces. Hygiene is paramount: to avoid complications (such as the potential for FIP), living environments and pet accessories must be kept clean and clear of any faecal material.
What is known about Covid-19 (Sars-Cov-2) and pets?
Observations have been made since the beginning of the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic and reverse zoonose has been reported across the world (pets infected by humans).
However, according to the World Small Animal Association, this pattern is uncommon. The pets in question did not become severely affected by Covid-19.
Besides, experimental studies have been carried on cats and dogs who were intentionally infected with Sars-Cov-2 and essentially showed that:
- Live virus could not be grown from any dog previously infected with Sars-Cov-2
- Cats infected with Sars-Cov-2 could pass it to other cats but none developed symptoms
- Cats and dogs were able to produce antibodies