An Update On SARS-CoV-2 And Your Pet

As our knowledge of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and resulting Covid-19 disease evolves, the news and guidelines we must follow are changing as well. The dynamic nature of this situation may be difficult for some, who may find keeping up to date with current best practices and precautions to be a time-consuming endeavor.

dog and cat rubbing headsDr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that while several news stories have recently detailed pet cats, dogs, and even zoo tigers testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, pet owners should be assured that these are rare and seem to be one-way occurrences.

“We have no evidence that sick pets can transmit coronavirus to otherwise healthy, uninfected owners,” Creevy said.

Creevy said that most viruses prefer to infect one species above others; under our current understanding, SARS-CoV-2 prefers infecting humans and is less effective at infecting cats or dogs.

“The very most important way this virus spreads is from person to person,” she emphasizes.

Most dogs and cats that have tested positive for the virus in their bodies had known contact with infected humans. For some stray cats that have tested positive, it is not possible to determine what contact they may have had with infected people.

And although these animals tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is not clear whether the virus made them ill.

Given how common cat and dog ownership is and how uncommon detection of SARS-CoV-2 in these animals has been, Creevy says it is highly unlikely that dog or cat transmission of the virus will become a major factor in the pandemic.

Most importantly, Creevy said, “Researchers around the world are paying very close attention to whether or not pets can transmit the virus to humans, and have found no supporting evidence. This is an emerging virus, which means that we don’t yet know everything about it. But we will continue to provide updates to the public any time our understanding changes.”

Pet owners should practice good hygiene around their pets and other humans, maintain social distancing, and avoid exercising their animal in crowded areas or busy dog parks. Keep in mind that pets’ fur, like any other surface, may carry the virus if touched by an infected individual.

Creevy recommends that pet owners follow the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after playing with or petting a dog or cat, especially after contact with pet saliva or feces.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene, which means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, dry cough, or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call your provider in advance so they can be prepared for your arrival. Follow the directions of your physician or local health authority.
  • If you are sick, avoid close contact with other members of your household, including your pets. Have another member of the household care for your animals. If you must look after your pet while you are sick, maintain good hygiene practices and cover your face if possible.

The current crisis is stressful for many, but pet owners can mitigate their worries by following the recommended guidelines and practices. As a community, we can beat Covid-19 by staying clean, staying home, and staying well.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

When to be Concerned about Coronavirus with Your Pet

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.

a black cat lays next to a brown spanielAlthough 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 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 life-threatening, 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.”

In addition, veterinarians do not currently believe that pets are susceptible to the 2019-nCoV mutated virus.

“There is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to animals, or that animals are involved in current transmission of the disease to humans,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, director for the CVM’s Veterinary Emergency Team. “The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention does recommend avoiding animals if traveling to China and to not handle pets or animals while sick.”

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 to 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 well-nourished, 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.

By keeping with their usual practice of good hygiene and staying up to date on official information surrounding outbreaks such as this one, pet owners have little to worry about in the case of the novel 2019-nCoV coronavirus strain behind the Wuhan outbreak.

“Dealing with emerging viruses is always difficult, because when a new virus emerges, we cannot predict its behavior,” Creevy said. “For instance, more Americans are currently infected with the flu and more Americans are at risk of death from flu than from 2019-nCoV.  But 2019-nCoV is capturing all the news attention because it is more unpredictable. It’s appropriate to pay attention to 2019-nCoV while we try to figure out what it does, but it’s also essential to keep preventing flu, which is far more likely to affect most Americans.

“Similarly, for pets, there is a possibility that 2019-nCoV has mutated in a way that it could affect pets, but that is unlikely,” she said. “It’s OK to be aware of that and pay attention to emerging news, but it’s even more important for owners to understand the things that we already know coronavirus can and does do.”

“The first, and most important, thing to remember is that most coronaviruses are very specific to the species they infect—meaning the cat coronaviruses don’t infect dogs or humans and vice versa,” Zoran said. “As with all viruses, a clean environment, healthy diet, and good husbandry is the best way to ensure that viruses don’t cause problems for you or your pet.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

Vet holding on to dog and catImmunizations are one of the easiest ways to ensure that your pet lives a long and healthy life.

According to Dr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, vaccinations are an essential component of preventative medicine for companion animals.

“The diseases against which vaccinations have been developed are typically highly dangerous, highly contagious, or both,” Creevy said. “Vaccinations can protect pets from serious disease or potential death and can also minimize the spread of disease among pets.”

Vaccines contain some or all of the inactivated protein parts of pathogens that cause infectious disease. After vaccination, the animal’s immune system recognizes the pathogen from these inactivated parts—if the animal is exposed to the real disease in the future, their immune system is capable of fighting back against it. This, in turn, prevents, or substantially limits, sickness in the vaccinated animal.

“Most initial vaccinations are given to puppies and kittens between 6 and 8 weeks of age, or to adult animals with no known vaccine history, in a series of several injections,” Creevy explained. “Dogs and cats should be boosted at 1 year of age, and after that core vaccinations should be boosted every three years. Many of the non-core vaccines are boosted more often.”

Core vaccines are those that all dogs and cats should receive. These immunizations prevent diseases like rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis in dogs, and herpesvirus, calicivirus, and panleukopenia in cats.

Non-core vaccines are used more selectively because the diseases they prevent are less dangerous, are only dangerous to certain groups of animals, or only exist in certain parts of the country. These diseases include Lyme disease and kennel cough in dogs.

“The owner and the veterinarian can discuss each individual pet’s risk of disease and decide whether or not each individual pet should be vaccinated with any of the non-core vaccines,” Creevy said.

Creevy reminds pet owners that vaccinations are always safest and most effective when administered by a veterinarian, and when it comes to the risks and side effects associated with vaccines, she advices owners to consult with their veterinarian before making any decisions.

“Modern vaccines are highly effective and generally safe; however, adverse events can occur with the administration of any medical substance, which is why administration by a veterinarian in a medical facility is always preferred,” she said.

According to Creevy, the most common adverse effects of vaccinations include pain, swelling or soreness at or around the injection site. If any other side effects are noted, Creevy suggests owners speak with their veterinarian as soon as possible.

This National Immunization Awareness Month, remember that establishing a relationship with your veterinarian and determining an immunization strategy tailored to your pet’s age and health status will promote a long, happy, and, most importantly, healthy lifestyle for your four-legged friend.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Texas A&M Seeks Healthy Dogs for Second Phase of ‘Aging Project’ Trial

Dog with his birthday cakeVeterinarians from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) are seeking middle-aged, healthy dogs of any breed, or combination of breeds, to participate in a clinical trial as part of its Dog Aging Project.

The growing focus of the aging research at Texas A&M—led by Dr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor in the CVM’s Small Animal Clinical Sciences Department—is to preserve function and extend a dog’s “healthspan,” rather than to treat age-related disease after it has already begun. “Healthspan” refers to the period of life when someone is active, healthy, and feeling good.

The second phase of Creevy’s project is a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind veterinary clinical trial in healthy, middle-aged dogs to test the hypothesis that the immunosuppressive drug rapamycin can improve age-related decline in cardiac function and increase healthspan in companion dogs.

Rapamycin has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in humans to prevent organ transplant rejection and certain forms of cancer. Rapamycin also has been studied in dogs with cancer as a chemotherapy drug.

In the study’s first phase, Creevy’s collaborative research team tested rapamycin in healthy dogs, finding evidence of mild improvements in the heart functions of those healthy dogs, with no significant side effects or adverse events.

Dogs enrolled in the second phase of Creevy’s study will receive rapamycin or a placebo three times a week for six months. They will have three follow up appointments throughout the course of one year and owners will be asked to complete regular surveys about their dog as the trial progresses.

To participate, dogs must be 6-10 years of age and weigh 40-80 pounds. At enrollment, dogs will receive a full physical exam, a full blood and urinalysis panel, a heartworm test, an echocardiogram, and participate in a cognitive assessment—all at no cost to pet owners.

Those interested in participating in the trial should complete the survey found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Rapa2_TAMU.

For more information, contact rapaphase2@dogagingproject.com.