Thursday, July 30th 2020, 3:03 pm - Testing around animals with COVID-19 has been minimal, but results show that dogs and cats can, in fact, contract the novel virus.
Research has shown that our housepets can contract COVID-19, but experts say, don’t panic!
Although evidence suggests animals can get infected, there aren’t many tests being done on them. There are a couple of reasons as to why that is.
“It's not going to change what we do to the cat,” says Scott Weese with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. “So if I get a call from someone and they've got a cat that's COVID-positive, I'm going to say the same thing: just take care of it. Let it burn it off on its own. Unless it's seriously ill, we don't need to do anything for treatment."
Weese says if you have COVID, then it is reasonable to assume that your pet may also be infected.
“The other side of it is if my cat has been exposed to me, and I have COVID, what I don't want to do is have anyone leave the household and that includes the cat. Then someone's got to pick him up and take him into a clinic, and if he actually is infected, he may actually be exposing people there,” he added.
They test animals from a research standpoint, but they do it differently. He says he goes to people’s homes to get a sample to try to contain it.
Experts say if you have COVID, it's highly likely your pet does too. Image: Burst/PEXELS.
“That's why there's not a lot of testing being done, which means we don't really understand if it's a rare problem or something that's more common just under the radar,” adds Weese. “We don't know how common it is. We know it can happen. Does it happen really commonly and it's really mild? We don't know. And if it happens commonly and it's mild or the cats don't get sick, then there's a reason not to be too concerned -- but it's also a reason to practice social distancing with our animals.”
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET HAS COVID?
All species are a bit different with respect to the makeup of their cells and how this virus attaches to a specific receptor.
“It's really good for our receptor, obviously, and it's good for things that are more closely related to us like primates,” explains Weese. “Species beyond that, it just depends on how similar that receptor is. Cats it's more similar. Dogs can be infected but they're more resistant.”
Some species seem to be resistant overall, and just it comes down to how the virus matches up with different animal species’ cells.
“There are probably a lot that have it, especially cats, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's not an uncommon occurrence. If I get COVID and I'm coughing and I'm sneezing on my cat and I'm touching him, that's a risk for transmission. Most of the time, cats don't get very sick, we assume, and when they [do] get sick, they don't tend to get very seriously ill,” Weese says.
WATCH BELOW: CAN YOU CONTRACT COVID-19 FROM A MOSQUITO?
How the symptoms show in animals can also vary from species to species.
“Cats will get respiratory disease, kind of like we do. They might be run down. They might not eat as much. They might have diarrhea. It's very similar to a relatively mild form of COVID in people,” adds Weese. “Coughing, sneezing, not eating, looking a little bit depressed, having diarrhea -- those are all the kinds of things we'd expect to see if we had a cat that was infected.”
Dogs are where it gets tricky. Weese says they don’t really have good evidence that dogs get sick.
“They can get infected, but we don't really have any convincing evidence that they get sick. Being infected doesn't mean you're sick -- just like in people. A lot of people get asymptomatic infections and the same thing can happen in animals. Probably the majority of animals that get infected, whether that's a large or small number, are clinically normal. They're healthy. And then we get a subset of that looking at respiratory disease, and maybe some with more severe disease, but in terms of what we've seen so far, they tend to be fairly mild diseases overall.”
So the big question remains, like humans, can asymptomatic pets spread the virus?
“We don't know that yet,” says Weese. “Asymptomatic dogs, there's been very little studied. A dog that was followed in Hong Kong, one of the places that looked at it most aggressively, they were able to isolate the virus, grow the virus from the dog’s respiratory secretions, which means there was live virus there. Was it enough to infect a person? We don't know -- but if there's live virus there, remember how we interact with animals, we do have a lot of contact with their faces, you know if they lick, we get close to their muzzles. So there's a plausible risk there, we just don't know what the risk is.”
But Weese wants to be very clear - if you suspect you have COVID, you should be quarantined with your pets -- and if your pets have COVID, chances are, they got it from you.
“The big thing for people to be aware of is your pet poses a really low risk,” Weese reaffirms. “This is a human disease. If my cat has COVID, it got it from me or someone else in my household. We pose a greater risk to each other then the animal does.”
Again, don’t panic. Use common sense. Social distance with your pets just like you would your family from other families.
“Relax. 'Use some common sense, and we're all good' is kind of the line we're trying to get across. It's good to be aware and pay attention to it, but just because we're looking doesn't mean it's a major issue. We're looking to make sure we don't run into a major issue.”
WHAT ABOUT OTHER ANIMALS? LIVESTOCK?
So far, there are still no signs of infection in livestock.
“They don't seem to be a major risk, but again, it's that same messaging,” explains Weese. “We're saying, 'okay if you're on a farm and you're sick, or you want to visit a farm, don't have contact with animals' if you might be infected with it. It's better for us to prevent exposure [rather] than have to deal with the problem.”
He says as of right now, they don’t have significant evidence that livestock are a major concern, but it is still an area they are learning about.
“If livestock [were infected], you know, it's still very localized to the people in contact with the livestock and with their manure. We're not worried about this from a food safety issue.”
MINK FARMS SEEM TO BE A PROBLEM
Research shows that farmed mink, specifically in Europe, are quite susceptible to the virus.
“There have been some instances where they think mink have passed it back to people. Now it's obviously a very niche species. We don't have a lot of mink farms in Canada,” Weese says.
Still, the evidence shows that mink were infected by people on the farms, and then the mink began passing the novel virus on to other minks.
“There were some instances where they think it went mink to a person, and also went mink to a stray cat,” adds Weese.
LOTS OF UNKNOWNS WITH THE VIRUS
“I think there are questions [about] pretty much everything with this virus; we've known it for six months, or whatever the number is. We're learning a lot. We certainly have had more concerns about animals initially when we really didn't know, and now we're starting to realize, 'okay, some of our animal species are susceptible’, that's what we are worried about.”
Researchers are studying all of these things and want to convey the message to the public to follow common sense principles to reduce exposure.
Learn more about how you can protect your pets from COVID-19 by watching the video that leads this article.