The pandemic has affected everyone around the world in some way, shape or form. Often, it feels like we’ve been left with more questions than answers and each day brings some new speculation, statistics or sadness. Thanks to a lot of hard work, dedication and the miracle that is modern-day medicine, we are well underway with vaccination. As we continue to live with Coronavirus, we are gradually learning more about it. Our understanding about what it means for animals (including our pets), is also growing.
With each week, we discover more. Equally, stories emerge that raise new concerns. In the early part of the pandemic, there were stories emerging of coronavirus being passed to big cats in zoos. More recently, the focus has returned to our pets.
Coronaviruses in humans and animals
The Coronaviruses are a type of virus that have been around for some time. Corona means crown, this reflects the shape of the virus and is where it gets its name. Covid-19 is the disease caused by a newer type of Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which we became aware of in 2019. The very efficient and fast spread of Covid-19 has caused the pandemic.
Types of coronaviruses have also been identified in animals for many years. They have been found to cause infections in livestock, and be transmitted between different animal species. The SARS epidemic was later found to have been transmitted to the human population from civets (small mammals that inhabit tropical Africa and Asia). A type of Coronavirus is also responsible for a disease that affects cats, known as feline infectious peritonitis or FIP, but this virus has nothing to do with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in animals
Although we know that types of coronaviruses can be transmitted between animals, we still aren’t sure what the exact situation is with the current coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. That’s why there is research going on to try and figure out how this virus behaves in the animal population. The ongoing global initiative of One Health is based exactly around this concept; understanding the relationship between human and animal health, to maximise our knowledge, and improve the health, of both.
Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and our pets
It seems that the current coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 can also infect domestic animals. We have seen it under research conditions and we have seen it in a limited number of pets.
Studies going on around the world have reported a few cases of pets, often from Covid-19 affected households, that have the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These have ranged from dogs and cats with respiratory or other symptoms, to pets with no signs at all.
That said, there are many things that we still don’t have the evidence to make conclusions about. These include the following:
- We don’t have any evidence that pets can pass the virus to humans, or that domestic animals play any part in the spread of disease among humans. Covid-19 cases are perpetuated by human-to-human spread;
- We do not know how significant infections of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are in our pets – having only identified a handful of cases;
- We do not know if infections of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be passed between pets – neither of the same or different species.
At this time, we simply don’t have a large enough body of data, or the results of enough research to draw such conclusions.
Do I need to worry about touching my pets, will I get the virus from them?
Although the virus has been identified in cats and dogs from households where people have been infected by Covid-19, it would appear that the virus has been passed to the pet from an infected human, not the other way around. There is no evidence to suggest that your cat or dog can pass the SARS-CoV-2 virus to you. We still need to learn what infections in pets mean for the pet and human populations. In the meantime, if you have been infected with Covid-19 or are self-isolating, it’s advisable to take precautions with your pets. Minimise any contact with them, practice good hygiene and use a face mask. In the case of cats, it’s a good idea to try and keep them indoors if this is possible.
Until we have a more complete understanding of the Covid-19 disease at an epidemiological level (exactly where the causative agent coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 came from, what species it infects and how it can be transmitted, etc), research must continue. This includes screening in pet populations. In time, we will be able to make more informed decisions about pets and what coronavirus means for them. Meanwhile we all must take the necessary precautions to safeguard human and animal health.
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