The current coronavirus pandemic is scary. We want to ensure you have all the information you need to keep yourself and your pets healthy during this crisis. Read our story of the Coronavirus family, to explain, and help your understanding, of this crisis.
Coronavirus: A family history
Think of the term “coronavirus” as a person’s last name. Why? Because Coronavirus is a family of viruses. Now, picture the Coronavirus mob family, whose members are well-known by name and reputation, although each family member is a little different. One Coronavirus family member, named COVID-19, is currently making headlines. This particular family member likes to infect humans, while other family members—Canine Coronavirus and Feline Coronavirus—prefer to infect dogs and cats. However, despite sharing a last name, each of these three family members cannot change what they do (i.e., whom they affect). For example, Canine Coronavirus cannot suddenly decide he wants to cause COVID-19, and vice versa.
Family member COVID-19—the people person
COVID-19 currently infects only humans as its host species, but it is spreading quickly, because not much yet is known about the strain, and there is not yet a vaccine. Illness signs include fever, dry cough, lethargy, and sometimes breathing difficulty. Other human coronaviruses, such as MERS and SARS, are similar, and can cause similar clinical signs, but they also have distinguishable features, much like brothers and sisters. Currently, COVID-19 is known to cause illness only in humans, and there is no evidence that dogs or cats can spread COVID-19 to people, or other pets. Two dogs overseas have tested positive for coronavirus; however, the dogs, who had COVID-19-positive owners, showed no clinical signs, and subsequently tested negative after being quarantined.
Family member Canine Coronavirus—the dog lover
Think of Canine Coronaviruses as cousins, who can cause gastrointestinal (GI) or respiratory disease in dogs. The enteric, or intestinal virus, causes yellow-orange, watery diarrhea in dogs, spreads between dogs through oral secretions, or oral contact with an infected dog’s feces, and is self-limiting. The respiratory coronavirus is linked to kennel cough. Canine Coronavirus cannot infect humans or cats.
Family member Feline Coronavirus—she loves cats
Feline Coronavirus, another cousin, is also not COVID-19, but a common virus in cats that can affect the respiratory and GI systems. Most cats who contract feline coronavirus are asymptomatic, but some will develop mild diarrhea or upper respiratory infection, particularly shelter cats. Feline coronavirus is spread through fecal-oral contact, usually among cats who share living quarters, litter boxes, and toys.
Rarely, cats infected with feline coronavirus will suffer with a severe medical condition called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), caused by a mutation that you can think of as Feline Coronavirus’s evil twin. This generally occurs in kittens, or cats 12 years of age or older. The mutated virus infects the immune system cells, and progresses to causing infection and fluid accumulation in the chest and abdomen, or kidney or brain infection. FIP has been almost always fatal, but new treatments may help FIP cats recover.
Protect your family against the Coronavirus family
A few days ago, U.S. veterinary diagnostic testing company IDEXX confirmed that thousands of dogs and cats had tested negative for COVID-19, which is great news for your pets. The two dogs in China who tested COVID-19 positive may represent examples of a COVID-19 mutation attempt and, unfortunately, the more COVID-19 human cases, the more chances the virus has to mutate. Therefore, we must all practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently, and use proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, to shut down COVID-19’s spread, and minimize any opportunities to mutate.
Currently, COVID-19 is primarily transmitted between humans, when an infected person coughs, and a person nearby inhales the respiratory droplets. Indirect transmission is also possible, although unlikely, if infected humans cough near their pets, and the droplets become embedded in the pet’s fur, on her collar or leash, or on countertops, door knobs, or light switches. To be safe, always wash your hands frequently before and after playing with your pet, and try not to hug, snuggle, or share food. If you become sick, ask another household member, or a friend, to care for your pet until you recover. Don’t give COVID-19 a fighting chance at transmission, or mutating to infect our dogs and cats.
Trust only accurate, up-to-date information
Ensure you are reading the latest, correct information, by going to only reputable sources, including:
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)