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Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Pets

In response to the recent outbreak of a novel coronavirus, the WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) has released an Advisory to assist vets in informing pet owners in this rapidly evolving situation. We have paraphrased the information below in our information segment.

If you are in a high-risk group for being affected by COVID-19, such as those with concurrent health concerns or over the age of 70, please contact us regarding the following to assist in minimising the risk of exposure to yourself and others:

  • Minimal handling drop-off/pick-ups for pets, to avoid sitting in a waiting room and to minimise contact with staff members or other clients
  • Consultations via video call or telephone, with medications provided to pick up from our pick-up box
  • A larger supply of your pet’s regular medication or food to reduce the necessity of visits

Please note that the recent reports of canine coronavirus outbreaks in greyhounds in some areas of Australia (such as Victoria) refer to a type of canine coronavirus that is unrelated to COVID-19.

what is covid-19?

Coronaviruses belong to the family Coronaviridae. Alpha- and beta-coronaviruses usually infect mammals, whilst gamma- and delta-coronaviruses usually infect birds and fish. Canine coronavirus, which can cause mild diarrhoea, and feline coronavirus, which can cause feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), are both alpha-coronaviruses. These coronaviruses are not associated with the current coronavirus outbreak.

Until the appearance of this new coronavirus (COVID-19),which is a beta-coronavirus, there were only six known coronaviruses capable of infecting humans and causing respiratory disease, including SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, identified in 2002/2003) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, identified in 2012). The new coronavirus, COVID-19, is genetically more related to SARS than MERS, though both are beta-coronaviruses with their origin in bats.

Dr Vanessa Barrs, a Professor & Specialist in Infectious Diseases in Animals, and Chair Professor of Companion Animal Health & Disease at the City University of Hong Kong, has stated in an article in the Wall Street Journal that pets are very unlikely to be contributing to the spread of COVID-19. It may be possible for the coronavirus to infect dogs because a cell receptor protein (known as ACE2), which the pathogen attaches to, has similarities in dogs and humans. This doesn’t mean, however, that dogs can get sick from the virus or transmit the virus back to humans.

Can COVID-19 infect pets?

Currently there is no evidence that companion animals can be infected with or spread COVID-19.

Should I avoid contact with pets or animals if I am sick with COVID-19?

The WSAVA has quoted the CDC (Centre for Disease Control in the United States of America) recommendation in their response to this question, which is to avoid contact with pets and other animals if you are sick with COVID-19. This is not based on current information but rather on the potential risk that pets could transmit the virus, as a lot of information is still currently unknown about how COVID-19 behaves. If you would like to read the CDC recommendation you can find it here.

If my pet has been in contact with someone who is sick from COVID-19, can it spread the disease to other people?

While we do not yet know for sure, there is no evidence that companion animals can be infected with or spread COVID-19.

What should I do if my pet develops an unexplained illness and was around a person with documented COVID-19 infection?

It is still unknown whether companion animals can get infected by COVID-19; however, if your pet develops an unexplained illness and has been exposed to a person infected with COVID-19, talk to the public health official working with the person infected with COVID-19. They will consult with the local public health veterinarian and will advise you further. If you are advised to take your pet to your local veterinarian, call ahead to inform us that you are coming, so we can arrange an appropriate isolation area. In some cases it may be advisable to take your pet to the Northside Emergency Vet Service (NEVS) instead, for a higher level of isolation care. It is important to remember though that you should only take your pet to a veterinary clinic if you have been instructed to do so by a public health official.

What should be done in areas where the virus is active?

Currently there is no evidence that pets can be infected with COVID-19. However, the WSAVA advises that in areas where the virus is active pet owners should avoid contact with animals they are unfamiliar with, and should always wash their hands before and after they interact with animals. If owners are sick with COVID-19 , they should avoid contact with the animals in their household. If they do need to care for their pet while they are they should wash their hands before and after they interact with them, and wear a facemask.

Should I get my dog vaccinated against coronavirus because of the risk of COVID-19?

The canine coronavirus vaccines available are intended to protect against canine enteric coronavirus infection and are not licensed for protection against respiratory infections. There is no evidence that vaccinating dogs with these vaccines will provide cross-protection against the infection by COVID-19, since the enteric and respiratory viruses are distinctly different variants of the coronavirus.

If you have any more questions regarding COVID-19, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us by calling on (02) 9982 9439 or sending us an email.

Dr Caroline Wood, 3rd March 2020