Not at least, COVID-19. Cats and dogs have long harbored a corona virus within them. But it’s a gastrointestinal virus, not a respiratory one. In fact, many veterinary practices include corona virus in their distemper vaccines for dogs to protect them against diarrheal illness. Recall that when we speak of a distemper shot-DA2PP, it’s a combination vaccine which includes Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvo, Parainfluenza and some include a final C for Corona.
When I went to vet school, I was taught that corona virus was an intestinal virus mostly found in southern states. Though we here in Kent County are south of the Mason-Dixon line, I’m referring to areas significantly south. Because few Yankees dealt with the diarrhea caused by infectious corona virus, many of us eliminated that fraction from our northerly canine vaccines. The Visiting Vet does not include corona in her vaccine protocol.
The corona virus which cats harbor in their guts is usually commensal, meaning it exists without causing disease. But rarely-mercifully, a particular virus in a particular cat will mutate into the very virulent and terrible cause of FIP, feline infectious peritonitis, an almost always fatal disease.
The CDC does not have evidence that pets can spread COVID-19, and there’s no reason to think that pets can be a source of infection for humans. Vets are not seeing a spike in lower respiratory disease in cats and dogs, though of course it is allergy time when sneezing and runny noses are not uncommon. Yes, there’s the issue of the 2 Hong Kong dogs whose nasal swabs tested positive for the novel corona virus and the tiger in the Bronx Zoo who was also found to have SARS-CoV-2. But those animals were not severely ill, and testing positive for an RNA virus, and shedding and spreading it are two different things. Plus, worldwide, there are less than a handful of mammalian pets whose owners infected them, not the other way around. The virus does not appear in reptiles or birds. Curiously, infectious disease experts have found that ferrets and cats, exotic or domestic are more susceptible to the virus although they don’t appear to develop serious disease.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that if a person tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, then he or she should maintain a safe, hands-off distance from a pet, just as he would another person. Adhere to a 6 foot boundary and have someone else care for and feed the pet. Don’t hug or kiss them!
As we adjust to life in this pandemic, it’s important to have a companion by our sides. Pets lower our blood pressure, dogs need walking so we’re getting more exercise. Don’t abandon your pets in fear of disease spread. Keep them, and yourselves safe at home. Dr Celeste Conn has a house call practice in Kent County. Visit her website at www.thevisitingvet.net.