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Can I get coronavirus from my pet?

After the outbreak of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in China, the virus is now spreading throughout the world. There are many questions and concerns about the infection from people, both with and without pets. The most frequent questions that pet owners ask our vets are: can my pet get Covid-19, and can humans catch the virus from their pets?

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Covid-19 and UK pets

A wide variety of coronavirus strains occur worldwide, and some of these also affect our pets in the UK. The virus gets its name from the fact that when viewed under a powerful microscope, the virus is shaped like a coronet, or crown. Covid-19 is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). However, there are currently no suspicions that pets can be infected, or that they can spread Covid-19 to humans.

A dog recently tested mildly positive for the virus in Hong Kong, after swabs were taken from its nose and mouth. However, the dog was not showing clinical signs. The test results did not show that the dog was infected with Covid-19. The most likely reason for the dog to have mildly positive test results was due to breathing contaminated air from the owner, who had previously been diagnosed with Covid-19.

For the latest information about Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2), please visit the World Health Organisation website. Further advice about pets and the new coronavirus is available from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.

Coronavirus in dogs

Canine coronavirus disease in dogs (CCV) is highly infectious. It causes sporadic outbreaks of intestinal infection, which is short-lived but tends to cause significant abdominal pain. CCV was first detected in 1970 and has since been found across the world.

Most cases of CCV arise due to oral contact with infected faecal matter, as well as from contaminated food bowls, or nose to nose contact with an infected dog. Crowding and unsanitary conditions also favour transmission. Dogs may not show signs for up to four days after exposure. Clinical signs usually last for between two and 10 days. Secondary infections by bacteria and other viruses may prolong the recovery time. Dogs may be carriers of the disease for up to six months after infection.

The infection is usually subclinical and dogs show very few clinical signs. Occasionally, dogs develop sudden-onset diarrhoea with a decreased appetite and lethargy. The stool will be loose, with a bad odour and an orange tinge, or may contain blood or mucus. Mortality is low, but deaths have been reported. The infection is typically more severe in puppies, which have a weaker immune system.

There is no treatment for CCV since the infection usually resolves by itself. CCV does not affect people.

Coronavirus in cats

Coronavirus in cats also affects the cells of the intestinal wall. Many cats become infected with coronavirus and the infection usually resolves by itself. Some cats will have gastrointestinal signs in the form of mild diarrhoea, however, many cats also do not show signs. In some cats, the virus may develop into Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). The virus most commonly affects cats with an impaired immune system.

Unfortunately, FIP is not curable. The disease has two forms: a ‘dry’ and a ‘wet’ form. A mix of both is common. Depending on the body system or organ that is affected, the symptoms vary. Affected cats may show laboured breathing, abdominal distension, increased thirst and urination, vomiting, weight loss or jaundice. Neurological signs can also be seen.

When should you contact a vet?

The signs of coronavirus can easily be confused with other diseases, so please seek veterinary advice if your cat or dog has diarrhoea that does not resolve within 24 hours, or is associated with significant lethargy or loss of appetite.

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