Dogs and cats can indeed transmit coronavirus, but ONLY to their fellow members of their owner respective species. They CANNOT transmit coronavirus to people, nor can people transmit coronavirus to them! So please refrain from putting silly masks like this on your dogs and most certainly do not even remotely entertain giving up your pet as tragically so many out of fear have chosen to do!
I know people are freaking out about the Pomeranian that tested positive for coronavirus in Hong Kong from the home of an elderly woman who was sick with COVID-19. Let me be very clear, the dog DID NOT transmit the disease to the woman nor vice versa. The dog WAS NOT infected with the disease. As many at this point are aware, coronaviruses have the ability to survive on surfaces for hours to days, including the surface of the pet. Thus the virus was ON the dog, not IN the dog.
In the case of the Pomerania in Hong Kong, the dog was likely touched by his infected owner and through routine self grooming it ended up on his mucus membrane surfaces and subsequently came up weak positive for the disease. The dog showed zero respiratory clinical signs at all and showed no evidence of cross species infection. The best lesson we can take away from this case is that we should include other peoples’ pets in our social distancing behavior; but we absolutely have nothing to fear fromour own pets.
Coronaviruses in dogs, cats, and people are nothing new at all, but tend to manifest very differently in each each respective species. For dogs and people, infections are generally self limiting and resolve without medical intervention. In dogs, it usually causes a mild case of diarrhea that is is so mild that it often goes unnoticed by the owner. Because puppies can be a bit more sensitive to otherwise mild infectious diseases, there was once a vaccine commonly administered, but that was largely being phased out by the time of my vet school graduation in 2002. The canine coronavirus vaccine still exists, but few veterinarians administer the vaccine, as it has been largely been deemed unnecessary by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association.
In cats, coronaviruses are very different ballgame. 90% of cats have been exposed to coronavirus and the vast majority are asymptomatic carriers. A small (<5%) percentage of young cats, kitten to 1-2 year old adults infected with coronavirus, will experience an invariably deadly version of the disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis, aka, FIP. There currently is no effective treatment for FIP and it is considered to be 100% fatal.
The deadly version of feline coronavirus that causes FIP is a mutated variant of the disease called FIPV. This mutation occurs within the cell of the infected feline host, most commonly in crowded environments, such as shelters and catteries. It has actually been shown that for every 4 cats housed in the same environment, the incidence of the deadly FIPV coronavirus mutation increases 2-fold.
Still, while it is unfortunate for the small percentage of cats that experience the FIPV coronavirus mutation, even that version of coronavirus poses zero risk to people.
Instead of fearing our pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, we should instead be leaning on their companionship in the midst of social isolation. Simply refrain from touching other people’s pets and keep others from touching yours and you will have nothing to fear from them.
Stay healthy and safe, my friends!
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. He is the author of The Man In The White Coat: A Veterinarian’s Tail Of Love. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , general partner of Grant Animal Clinic, and runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care. Dr. Welton fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.