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SARS-CoV-2 and Companion Pets Updates July 27, 2020

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease – continues to actively spread throughout the United States, the good news is that fears of companion pets becoming infected and transmitting the virus back to humans have lessened.

Hemopet wants to remind companion pet caregivers about key information regarding this strain of coronavirus and their companion pets.

  • The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states, “There is little to no evidence that domestic animals are easily infected with SARS-CoV-2 under natural conditions and no evidence to date that they transmit the virus to people.”
  • There is no evidence that the coronavirus can spread to people from the skin, fur or hair of pets.
  • The risk of transmission from companion pet to human is considered low according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Infected people can infect pets.
  • Please only pay attention to cases confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL). This department is only reporting on the first animal diagnosed within a household, shelter or zoo-setting at this time. As of July 24, 2020, only a handful – 25 cases – of SARS-CoV-2 have been confirmed in the United States.
  • As of July 22, 2020, the NVSL is reporting on samples collected as part of a planned and targeted active surveillance of a specific animal, with known or suspected exposures to a person with COVID-19 or other exposure to SARS-CoV-2. This is to better understand risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and its program accounts for 11 of the cases noted above. No one should be alarmed. Hemopet will be watching closely for further updates on this program.
  • Infected pets might get sick or they might not have any symptoms. Of the pets that have gotten sick, most only had mild illness and fully recovered.
  • Routine testing of animals for COVID-19 is not recommended by the AVMA, CDC, USDA, American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD), National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV), or the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials.
  • Veterinarians are strongly urged by these agencies to rule out other and more common causes of illness in companion pets before SARS-CoV-2 testing.
  • As companion pet testing is handled separately, it does not hinder, human testing capacity.

Out of an Abundance of Caution

At this time, follow the CDC guidance regarding companion pets.

CDC recommends that pet companion caregivers limit their pet’s interaction with people outside their household.

  • Keep cats indoors when possible and do not let them roam freely outside.
  • Walk dogs on a leash at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from others.
  • Avoid public places where a large number of people gather.
  • Do not put face coverings on pets. Covering a pet’s face could harm them.
  • Do not wipe or bathe your pet with chemical disinfectants, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or any other products not approved for animal use. There is no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur or hair of pets.

The CDC provides further guidance if a companion pet caregiver is diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2.

In any event, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately.

Companion Cats vs. Companion Dogs

Yes; companion cats may more easily become infected than dogs. Remember, though, the pets that have gotten sick only had mild illness and fully recovered. Plus, there is no evidence of companion pet-to-human transmission at this time.

Many animals have ACE2 receptors on the surface of their cells. By the way, ACE2 is short for angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. ACE2 receptors in humans help to stabilize blood pressure. So, they’re not necessarily bad and do serve a valuable health purpose.

Putting aside the cell for the moment, we need to talk about the word “corona”, which is Latin for “crown”. Coronaviruses have spike proteins on their surfaces that reminded the research discovery teams of monarchical crowns.

Now, we need to put the two together. Think of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as a key and the ACE2 receptor as its lock. The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein locks on – or binds to – the ACE2 receptor very well in humans.

So, why does it bind to the ACE2 receptor in humans and not all animals with ACE2 receptors?

ACE2 receptors have different configurations in different species. Think of it this way, your house key won’t work on your car door.

So, why cats, ferrets, Syrian hamsters, mink, and not dogs?

ACE2 receptors in cats and ferrets are very similar to those in humans, but ACE2 receptors in dogs are less structurally similar. Thus, making cats, ferrets, mink and hamsters more susceptible.

Of course, the virus situation is more complicated than binding. After a spike protein binds onto an ACE2 receptor and gains entry into a cell, it needs to replicate efficiently to survive.

Current Companion Pet Coronavirus Vaccines Will Not Provide Cross-Protection

Cats

The two known coronaviruses, from which cats can suffer, are feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) and the rare mutant form of feline infections peritonitis virus (FIPV). The former is common and can cause mild gastrointestinal illness in kittens. The latter, FIPV, can actually be highly fatal by developing into a multisystemic disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

Both FECV and FIPV are alpha-coronaviruses. SARS-COV-2 is a beta-coronavirus.

The current coronavirus vaccine for cats is intended to prevent FIP. There is no evidence that the FIP vaccine will provide cross-protection with SARS-CoV-2.

The vaccine against FIP is not recommended by either the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) or the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA).

Dogs

Current strains are canine respiratory coronavirus, canine enteric (intestinal) coronavirus, and pantropic canine coronavirus.

There is absolutely no evidence that vaccinating dogs with commercially available vaccines will provide cross-protection against the infection by SARS-CoV-2, since the enteric and respiratory viruses are distinctly different variants of coronavirus.

Canine respiratory coronavirus is a part of the kennel cough complex and is spread in kennel-like situations where dogs have high contact with one another or infected surfaces.

Canine enteric virus causes diarrhea. A vaccine is available for this strain. However, Dr. Dodds, Dr. Ron Schultz, WSAVA, and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) do not recommend it. As AAHA succinctly puts it, “Canine coronavirus (CCV) vaccination is not recommended on the grounds that infection: (1) causes mild or subclinical disease, (2) generally occurs in dogs 6 wks of age and younger, and (3) is typically self-limiting.”

The symptoms of canine pantropic coronavirus are lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, hemorrhagic diarrhea, and neurologic signs (ataxia, seizures). This strain appears to have not yet spread beyond Europe. There is no evidence that the canine enteric virus vaccine cross-protects against canine pantropic coronavirus according to the WSAVA.

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