PETS IN HOMES WITH OWNERS WITH COVID-19
On April 22, the CDC announced the first National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL)-confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in two pet cats. These are the first pets in the United States to test positive for SARS-CoV-2. Currently we have no information that suggests that pets might be a source of infection for people with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
To date, globally, the only pets incidentally exposed to COVID-19 that have tested positive, with confirmation, for SARS-CoV-2 are two pet dogs and a pet cat in Hong Kong, and two pet cats in the United States. The two pet cats in the United States both had signs of mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery. The pet cat in Hong Kong did not exhibit clinical signs of disease. Another pet cat in Belgium tested positive, but details around that case are less clear. The dogs and cats in Hong Kong were each in the care of and had close contact with a person who had been confirmed to have COVID-19. In the case of the cat in Belgium, other diseases and conditions that could have caused those same signs of illness were not ruled out and there are also questions about how samples demonstrating the presence of SARS-CoV-2 were collected and evaluated. That cat recovered.
Until more is known about this virus, if you are ill with COVID-19 you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. When possible, have another member of your household or business care for any animals, including pets, while you are sick. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, wear a cloth face covering; don’t pet, share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet, service animal, or other animals. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
Additional guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 is available from the CDC.
Good communication during times of high stress is critical. The COVID-19 outbreak is a fast-evolving situation, and everyone is looking to those they trust for accurate information, reassurance, and transparency. To assist you in sharing information with your veterinary team members and clients the AVMA has developed the following resources:
- FAQs for veterinary professionals
- FAQs for pet owners
- Social media tools
- Client flyer: Protecting animals by planning for their care
KEEPING PETS SAFE
For responsible pet owners, preparing in advance is key. Make sure you have an emergency kit prepared, with at least two weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and any needed medications. Usually we think about emergency kits like this in terms of what might be needed for an evacuation, but it’s also good to have one prepared in the case of quarantine or self-isolation when you cannot leave your home.
Other appropriate practices include not letting pets interact with people or other animals outside the household; keeping cats indoors, if possible, to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people; walking dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals; and avoiding dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
If you are ill with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed with a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would with other people; have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick; avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
While we are recommending these as good practices, it is important to remember that there is currently no reason at this time to think that domestic animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Accordingly, there is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. In this emergency, pets and people each need the support of the other and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.
DOGS AND CATS IN HONG KONG
At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong, government officials with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) recommended that mammalian pets, including dogs and cats, from households with persons hospitalized because of COVID-19 should be cared for in quarantine and tested for infection with SARS-CoV-2. As of April 15, 30 dogs, 17 cats, and 2 hamsters have been held at the AFCD quarantine facility. However, only two dogs and one cat have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. None of the animals in quarantine, including the three positive animals, developed clinical signs of respiratory disease, and at least six animals have been released from quarantine, including both dogs that tested positive. Additional details on the positive animals are provided below. The World Organisation for Animal Health indicates that, “infection of animals with COVID-19 virus meets the criteria of an emerging disease. Therefore, any infection of animals with the COVID-19 virus . . . should be reported to the OIE in accordance with the Terrestrial Animal Health Code.” The Hong Kong government has reported all positive animals to the OIE.
On Thursday, February 27, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that samples obtained on February 26 from the nasal and oral cavities of a quarantined 17-year-old Pomeranian whose owner had been diagnosed with COVID-19 had tested “weak positive” for SARS-CoV-2, using a real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. Results from a rectal swab and fecal sample were negative. The RT-PCR test is sensitive, specific, and does not cross-react with other coronaviruses of dogs or cats. A “weak positive” result suggests a small quantity of SARS-CoV-2 RNA was present in the samples, but does not distinguish between RNA detected from intact virus and that detected from fragments of viral RNA.
PCR testing was repeated on samples collected February 28, March 2, 5, and 9 with continued “weak positive” results on nasal cavity samples. In addition, gene sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from the Pomeranian and its close human contacts was completed on March 12 and the viral sequences were very similar. Results of a virus neutralizing antibody test on a sample collected March 3 were negative, but further serological testing on that blood sample yielded positive results, suggesting that the Pomeranian had developed an immune response to the virus. Virus isolation was performed with negative results. Results of RT PCR conducted on nasal samples on March 12 and 13 were also negative, and the dog was released to its owner on the following day. The dog never showed clinical signs of respiratory disease during quarantine.
Experts from the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences of the City University of Hong Kong believe the consistency and persistence of the results suggest the virus may have spread from the infected people to the Pomeranian in this particular case. Testing was conducted by the laboratories of the AFCD and the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong. The latter is an accredited reference laboratory for the WHO for the testing of SARS-COV-2.
Unfortunately, the Pomeranian that tested positive reportedly passed away three days after release. The dog was 17 years old and had ongoing health issues that were likely responsible for the death of this dog, rather than COVID-19.
On March 18, the AFCD reported that a two-year-old German Shepherd Dog, whose owner had tested positive for COVID-19, had also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, using RT-PCR. The dog also had positive results of tests run on samples collected March 19 and 20, and then negative results for 10 consecutive days.
On March 25, the AFCD reported that virus was isolated from one or more samples collected from the German Shepherd Dog, and on April 3, reported that the dog developed neutralizing antibodies to the virus. Another mixed-breed dog from the same residence continually tested negative for SARS-CoV-2. Neither dog developed signs of respiratory disease while in quarantine, and both were returned to their owner.
On March 30, the AFCD reported that a pet cat that lived in a residence with an individual confirmed to be ill with COVID-19 had tested positive, using RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2 via oral cavity, nasal, and rectal swab samples. Results of testing of oral and nasal swab samples collected on April 1 were also positive. The cat is in quarantine and has exhibited no clinical signs of disease.
CAT IN BELGIUM
During the third week of March, the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) in Belgium reported it was informed on March 18 by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege that viral RNA of SARS-CoV-2 was detected by PCR (RRT-PCR and high throughput sequencing PCR; specifics not provided) in the feces and vomit of a cat with digestive and respiratory clinical signs. The cat was owned by a person infected with SARS-CoV-2, but according to the Scientific Committee of the FASFC it is not known whether the sequences of virus in the cat and the owner were similar.
Information is not available regarding what other conditions potentially leading to respiratory or gastrointestinal signs were considered or evaluated for this cat. The cat reportedly became ill one week after its owner had returned from Italy, but the date samples were collected in relationship to when the cat’s clinical signs first appeared and how those samples were collected (e.g., directly from the cat, off the floor) are also not known. Because other etiologic causes for the cat’s illness appear to have not been excluded and little is known about the samples in which viral material was detected, a clear link between the presence of viral material and clinical signs consistent with coronavirus infection cannot be established. The condition of the cat reportedly improved 9 days after onset of clinical signs.
CATS IN NEW YORK, UNITED STATES
On April 22, the CDC and the US National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) announced the first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in two pet cats. The cats lived in two separate areas of New York state. Both had mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery.
A veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs. No individuals in the household had been confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. The virus may have been transmitted to the cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home.
Samples from the second cat were taken after it showed clinical signs of respiratory illness. The owner of that cat tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the cat showing clinical signs. Another cat in the household has exhibited no clinical signs of illness.
Both cats tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a private veterinary laboratory, which then reported the results to state and federal officials. Confirmatory testing was conducted at the NVSL and included collection of additional samples. These NVSL-confirmed results will be reported to the OIE.
RESULTS OF COMMERCIAL LABORATORIES’ TESTING OF SAMPLES FROM COMPANION ANIMALS
As of April 17, two commercial laboratories in the United States reported they had tested (RT-PCR) thousands of specimens from dogs and cats for SARS-CoV-2 and had obtained no positive results. These specimens have come from the United States, South Korea, Canada, and Europe, including regions concurrently experiencing human COVID-19 cases. While this is encouraging, the specimens tested were originally submitted for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of more common pathogens causing respiratory disease in dogs and cats and, as such, per-case information as to whether or not these dogs and cats had contact with confirmed COVID-19 positive people is not available.