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The Virus Causing COVID-19 in Humans and the Situation with Pets

Conversationally, we have been starting to say that people are testing positive for COVID-19. This is misleading. The currently available diagnostic tests detect the presence of the live virus, SARS-CoV-2, using swabs from either the nose or the throat.

Bear in mind, the tests do not test for the actual disease, COVID-19. The SARS-CoV-2 virus can cause – or develop into – COVID-19 disease in some people. Thus, it is incorrect to state that people are walking around who don’t know they have the disease. The correct statement is that these healthy people are carriers of – or infected with – the virus, and can pass it on to others, but do not develop the disease or symptoms themselves. Other people, however, may develop the COVID-19 disease if infected with the virus.

Serological antibody tests are being rolled out in the United States. At the time of this publication, it appears the antibody tests are awaiting approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If they are currently approved, they are not listed on the FDA’s website yet. These tests blood for an immune response to the virus – not the COVID-19 disease.

In this latest update, we discuss:

  1. cat in Belgium that tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus;
  2. testing pets;
  3. taking care of pets if you fall ill with the virus;
  4. pet adoptions;
  5. essential services; and,
  6. for your household’s health, good-to-knows about bleach.

Cat in Belgium

On March 18, 2020, the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) in Belgium was informed by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was detected in the feces and vomit of a cat. News reports about the cat did not circulate until March 27, 2020.

Little is known about the circumstances at this time. However, we believe the FASFC wanted to take its time to develop a thorough response and guidelines, hence the nine-day delay.

What we are told is:

  • The cat’s parent had developed COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • The cat had transient digestive and respiratory symptoms, which are common in cats.
  • It is unclear whether the cat was sick because of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 or merely passed it, or had a different health issue.
  • The cat has recovered.

There is currently no evidence that companion pets or other domestic animals can spread SARS-CoV-2 to humans or other animals.

Current Coronavirus Vaccine for 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).

AAFP

Not-Generally Recommended

  • According to the limited studies available, only cats known to be feline coronavirus antibody negative at the time of vaccination are likely to develop some level of protection.
  • Vaccination of cats living within households in which FIP is known to exist ,or cats that are known to be feline coronavirus antibody positive, is not recommended.

WSAVA

Not-Recommended. According to the limited studies available, only cats known to be feline coronavirus antibody-negative at the time of vaccination are likely to develop some level of protection. It is rare that a cat will be coronavirus antibody negative at 16 weeks of age or older.

If you would like to review Dr. Dodds’ feline vaccination protocol, please click here.

Testing Pets

Again, there is currently no evidence that companion pets or other domestic animals can spread SARS-CoV-2 to humans or other animals.

IDEXX Laboratories tested thousands of pets for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. None of them were infected. However, using an abundance of caution, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established guidelines and protocols if pets do need to be tested. According to the USDA’s announcement:

“There is no evidence to support that domestic animals including pets might be a source of infection with SARS-CoV-2… Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state or federal public and animal health officials.”

Taking Care of Pets

Also, out of an abundance of caution, people who fall ill with COVID-19 should limit contact with their companion pets and another healthy member of the household should walk, feed and play with the pet instead. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, let them lick you, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal, and avoid touching your face.

Please make sure you have an emergency kit prepared for self-isolation or quarantine that includes at least two weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and any needed medications.

We completely agree with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) statement that:

“Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately.”

Pet Adoptions

Some readers have commented that people are abandoning their pets due to the coronavirus outbreak. They go further to say that if we report on the topic of pet health and SARS-CoV-2 that we are causing anxiety and that people will do so. We are actually discussing these topics to prevent such occurrences.

We decided to check on the issue of relinquishment. Yes; anecdotally shelters and rescues are experiencing an increase of pets being surrendered possibly due to the virus.

We have also read articles of the opposite. Some shelters and rescues in parts of the United States are actually experiencing an uptick in adoptions or fostering.

Essential Services

Many of us purchase pet food at locally owned and operated pet food supply stores. After checking around states that have stay-at-home orders, it appears that these establishments are deemed essential. It would be best to call your local store to find out for sure, and if they have your pet’s food in stock. While we do encourage everyone to have two weeks of pet food on hand, please do not hoard it or clear the shelf. All of us are in this together!

The AVMA is working hard with states to also categorize veterinary services as essential businesses in case non-essential businesses are closed temporarily. Many states do recognize this designation for veterinary practices. Please prepare and check with your state and veterinarian.

Bleach

When you are staring at an empty store shelf – waiting for disinfecting wipes to materialize out of thin air – you might turn around and see the bleach. This reminds you that you have the staple big bottle of bleach at home that you’ll use instead.

Here’s the kicker: bleach can expire.

According to the major bleach manufacturer, Clorox, bleach should be replaced every year and be stored between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit out of direct sunlight.

If you don’t remember the last time you purchased your bleach, Clorox has a code on the back that is obscure but decipherable. For example, A82006621CA3 stands for March 7, 2020. The first two characters, A8, refer to the production plant. Then, 20 stands for the last two numbers of the year, 2020. The day of the year the bottle was made is “066.” Thus, this bottle of bleach was produced on March 7, 2020.

There is a lot of information out there about the differences in bleach. We suggest purchasing the bottles of chlorine bleach that are marked regular or claim they disinfect. Keep it simple.

Before you go out and purchase five bottles of bleach, remember a little goes a long way.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you need to prepare a bleach solution by mixing:

5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water OR 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.

If you find yourself staring at an empty 24-ounce spray bottle in your house, you would need 3 teaspoons of bleach to water solution. Basically, it is one teaspoon to every 8 ounces of water.

If you find yourself staring at your expired bottle of bleach wondering what to do with it, you can flush it down your toilet.

Other tips from the CDC:

  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.
  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them prior to disinfection. You can use detergent or soap and water.
  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning.
  • Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Don’t use it on wood.
  • Make sure the area is properly ventilated.
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