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When to be concerned about coronavirus with your pet

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The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak has been at the front of many health professionals’ minds, especially with the World Health Organization’s recent declaration of the virus as a public health emergency of international concern.

Although the threat of the mutated 2019-nCoV strain should be taken seriously, veterinarians at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) discuss how this dangerous variant of coronavirus is different from strains that may infect your pet dog or cat.

Coronaviruses are fairly common and often cause mild infections in cats and dogs, contributing to illnesses such as Infectious Tracheobronchitis Complex (ITB), also known as kennel cough.

While there are also forms of coronavirus that can be more serious, and even lifethreatening, for pets, Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the CVM, emphasizes that “the coronaviruses that infect animals do not infect humans unless the virus mutates, which is what 2019-nCoV did in the Wuhan, China region.”

However, Dr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor at the CVM, assures pet owners that “at this time, we do not believe humans can catch (any form of) coronavirus from their pet.”

Since the more commonly encountered coronaviruses are species-specific, cats ill with a coronavirus are able to transmit that virus to other cats, but not to dogs. Similarly, dogs are able to pass canine coronavirus to other dogs, but not to cats.

For this reason, Zoran says it is best practice for owners introducing a new pet into their household to separate the new animal from their other pets until the new animal can be examined by a veterinarian, or until the owner is sure their new pet doesn’t have signs of ill health (which may be a week or more).

Cats infected with coronavirus may exhibit mild diarrhea, fevers, jaundice, fluid acclimation in the chest or abdomen and weight loss, depending on which strain of the virus is present.

Dogs infected with a coronavirus may have either an intestinal or respiratory variant, Creevy says. Canine intestinal coronaviruses typically cause mild diarrhea and may resolve without veterinary intervention.

“Dogs infected with respiratory coronavirus alone, or with other ITB complex pathogens, typically show mild nasal discharge and coughing,” Creevy said. “In most cases, they will recover on their own with supportive care including rest, steam therapy to soothe their cough and soft food that’s easier to swallow with a sore throat.”

As with all viral infections, there are antiviral drugs that can help slow the virus effects in the body, but clearing the infection requires the infected individual’s immune system do the work.

Dog owners can protect their pet from disease by practicing good hygiene for their pets and themselves, including avoiding contact with areas that have feces from other dogs, and washing their hands after contact with dog feces.

Pet dogs should be wellnourished, receiving the correct anti-parasite medications and vaccinated against preventable infections.

“For cats, since there are no effective vaccines for either coronavirus, the best prevention is good health and hygiene practices, and especially litterbox cleanliness, as the virus is present in feces,” Zoran said. “Owners should clean their cat’s litterboxes daily and make sure they have enough litterboxes, at least one per cat to avoid over-crowding.”

When possible, owners should keep their pets away from other animals that are sick and should seek veterinary care if their illness does not resolve, worsens or if they have concerns about their pet’s well-being.

Humans coming into contact with pets should take care to wash their hands, and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency also recommends avoiding contact with other people who are sick and staying home if you feel unwell. For more information, visit the CDC website.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.