Dogs, Cats and Coronavirus

There has been conflicting information on whether our pets can contract and pass on COVID-19 to other pets and humans. Initially, a report out of Wuhan, China noted that a dog tested positive for COVID-19 infection. Additional evaluation of that animal proved the test result was a false positive and the animal was neither ill nor contagious.

Several articles have appeared in newspapers and on TV news shows encouraging individuals to cuddle with their pets for anxiety and stress reduction. Then came the report out of New York City that one of the big cats at the Central Park Zoo tested positive for Coronavirus and was ill. Shortly thereafter, several more of the big cats tested positive.

This week an article was published in the peer reviewed journal called Science. Zhigao Bu, PhD, of Harbin University Veterinary Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Harbin , China looked at whether animals could pass the virus through respiratory transmission. The purpose of the study was not initially to determine whether the virus could travel from pets to humans. The real purpose was to find an animal model that they could test new vaccines against COVID-19 on and test medication regimens.

They first looked at ferrets and found that while the virus could replicate in the upper respiratory tract of the animals for three to eight days, it did not make them sick and they were not contagious. They next turned to young cats. They inoculated their nasal passages with the virus and placed these infected kittens next to healthy kittens. They found that the virus was transmitted to the healthy non-inoculated cat with the animals developing the respiratory disease. Necrotic lesions were found in the respiratory tract of these test animals and they were found to transmit the virus by an airborne route.

They next tried the experiment on young beagles. While the virus was detected in the blood of the dogs inoculated with the virus, none of the healthy dogs exposed to them contracted the virus. The inoculated dogs developed antibodies against the disease but none of the beagles became ill. The dogs were felt to be non-contagious. Similar experiments showed that pigs, chickens and ducks did not contract the virus nor were they contagious to their species or humans when inoculated with the virus.

From their research it is probably true that dogs will not contract the disease and transmit it to other dogs or humans. It appears that felines however are susceptible to COVID-19 and may be a reservoir for the disease or a vector of transmission.