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Coronavirus in pets

Coronavirus in dogs 101

With the recent human COVID-19 outbreak (coronavirus), you likely have questions about whether the virus can affect your pet, or if you can catch coronavirus from your pet. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses of many different strains, that commonly infect people and a variety of animal species. Dogs and cats can become infected and ill with species-specific coronavirus strains, which are different from the recent human strain, SARS-CoV-2 (i.e., COVID-19), that emerged in China in late 2019. Fortunately there is no current evidence that pets can become ill from or transmit the virus back to humans. This is in spite of the news that some pets belonging to COVID-19 positive people tested weak positive to virus (but not illness) presence.

Coronavirus in dogs

What diseases are caused by canine coronavirus?

Dogs can become infected with two types of coronavirus infections, neither of which are known to be able to cause illness in humans.

  • Canine enteric coronavirus (CECoV) — According to PetMD, the enteric coronavirus strain causes gastrointestinal (GI) disease that is typically mild and self-limiting, meaning that symptoms are generally not severe, and resolve on their own without treatment. CECoV is a common cause of diarrhea and vomiting in puppies, and more commonly infects dogs than the respiratory strain.
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCoV) — According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the canine respiratory coronavirus strain typically causes mild upper respiratory symptoms, similar to those caused by canine respiratory pathogens associated with canine kennel cough complex. CRCoV may cause co-infections with other respiratory pathogens, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, and adenovirus. Occasionally, dogs infected with CRCoV develop more severe disease, including pneumonia.

What are coronavirus signs in dogs?

According to PetMD, dogs infected with enteric coronavirus (CECoV) typically develop mild GI signs, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

Some infected dogs, especially adult dogs with fully competent immune systems, display no clinical signs after infection. According to a 2014 study published in Viruses, CECoV occasionally causes severe enteritis in puppies. This virus strain can also cause co-infections with other pathogens, including canine parvovirus, to cause more severe disease than either pathogen alone would cause.

According to the AVMA, dogs infected with the respiratory strain (CRCoV) typically develop mild upper respiratory signs, including:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

Occasionally, CRCoV can progress to pneumonia, particularly if co-infection with other respiratory pathogens occurs.

How can dogs contract the species specific coronaviruses (CECoV) or (CRCoV)?

The enteric coronavirus (CECoV) is mainly shed in the feces of infected dogs, who, according to PetMD, may shed the virus for up to six months after infection. Fecal-oral transmission (poop to mouth) serves as the primary means of infection. Dogs can be exposed to the virus by directly contacting an infected dog, or their feces, in the environment. Dogs who visit places where other dogs gather, such as boarding facilities, kennels, and dog parks, are most likely to become infected.

According to the AVMA, respiratory coronavirus (CRCoV) is shed through aerosolized droplets from infected dogs when they cough or sneeze. Transmission can occur through direct contact with an infected dog or their respiratory secretions, which can contaminate objects such as food bowls, bedding, and human clothing.

How is coronavirus diagnosed in dogs?

Since disease caused by canine coronaviruses is typically mild and self-limiting, a presumptive diagnosis is often made based on clinical signs, and symptomatic treatment may be administered while the infection resolves. If a dog is severely ill and a definitive diagnosis is important, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing can be performed at a veterinary laboratory to isolate the virus, according to the 2014 study.

How is coronavirus infection treated in dogs?

Most coronavirus infections do not become severe enough to require treatment. Dogs who are taken to their veterinarian may be treated with medications to manage clinical signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or coughing. If a secondary bacterial infection is diagnosed, antibiotics may be prescribed, but they will not be effective against the viral infection. Dogs who develop severe disease may be hospitalized with intravenous fluids and medications during recovery.

Can humans contract coronavirus from dogs?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that the coronavirus strains that infect dogs can be transmitted to humans, and people need not be concerned about acquiring human coronavirus strains, including SARS-CoV-2, from their dog. Although research on SARS-CoV-2 is ongoing, dogs do not appear to be at risk of infection.