As we tackle this difficult time on our planet dealing with lockdowns, self-isolation and a serious lack of walking the dog, many pet owners may be concerned if COVID 19 can affect their pets or not.
It is well known that animals suffer from various corona virus infections and all vets are aware of this by the time they graduate from vet school. We commonly see signs of respiratory disease, such as coughing and sneezing, as well as gastro intestinal disease showing as vomiting and diarrhoea caused by various corona viruses. These are host specific viruses and do not affect humans. As with most viral diseases there is no specific cure and the animal’s immune system needs to kick in and fight the disease. We can help them recover by making sure they are eating well, kept warm and comfortable and if more severely ill placing them on a drip in to make sure they stay well hydrated.
But can the specific SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID 19 in humans infect our animals? The answer is yes, but there is no need to panic. Our pets are not the correct host for this virus and therefor are only developing mild to no symptoms at all and are NOT able to infect humans.
The first case of a dog testing positive for COVID 19 was reported from the Wuhan region in March 2020. The dog did not show any signs of illness but was tested after the owner become ill with COVID 19.
Also in March 2020 a cat in Belgium tested positive with signs of mild illness. Not long after this, 4 tigers and 3 lions at the Bronx zoo were noted to have a dry cough and one of the tigers tested positive for COVID 19.
Luckily all evidence to date shows that these animals contracted the virus from humans that were positive for COVID 19. Viruses like ideal hosts and in the case of COVID 19 that host is humans. Evidence to date also shows that animals do not transmit the virus to humans. Dogs show a natural resistance to the virus and do not seem to develop any signs of illness. In rare cases cats and other members of the cat family have developed mild illness. Animal infections with COVID 19 have been rare and isolated and have all involved humans infecting animals. Animals appear only to get mild symptoms and recover easily.
What should you do if your pet starts to sneeze or cough? Chances are very good that it is caused by something else and NOT COVID 19. If the pet has been in contact with a COVID 19 positive human, keep the pet isolated and contact your veterinarian for help telephonically. As no pets to date have developed life threatening illness chances are good that they will recover uneventfully at home. If a person is known to be positive for COVID 19, it is advisable that if it is possible, another member of the family should look after the pets while the infected person stays self-isolated. Unfortunately testing animals for COVID 19 is not yet available in South Africa.
Every day we get new information about the COVID 19 pandemic, but for the moment our pets are safe.
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