20 Healthy Tips for 2020 20 Healthy Tips for 2020

ADVERTISEMENT

Should You Get Your Pet Tested for SARS-CoV-2?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

covid-19 animal test

Story at-a-glance -

  • A veterinary test for SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that can cause the disease COVID-19 in humans — is now available for pets
  • The test can be ordered by veterinarians, providing certain parameters are met, including first ruling out other more common causes of a pet’s symptoms
  • At this time, the majority of animal regulatory authorities do not recommend routine testing of pets
  • The AVMA has provided updated guidelines for managing pets in homes with a COVID-19-infected person, as well as general guidelines for keeping pets safe from the virus

If you're a pet parent, you're probably aware from news reports that a handful of dogs, cats, and tigers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19.

In addition, a preliminary study involving dogs, cats, ferrets, pigs, ducks and chickens (all of which were intentionally infected in a laboratory in China), suggests that ferrets and cats are highly susceptible to the virus, dogs have low susceptibility, and pigs, ducks and chickens are not susceptible.1

Given the non-stop media headlines and exploding number of published but not-yet-peer-reviewed studies on pets/animals and COVID-19, people are growing concerned about the health risks associated with the possibility that animal companions can acquire the disease and/or transmit it.

This concern is understandable, and as you'll see below, steps are being taken to provide a vehicle for widespread testing of pets by veterinarians. But with that said, per veterinary journal dvm360:

"… leading health authorities and Idexx [Laboratories] veterinarians agree that transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus occurs primarily from person to person; thus, there is no reason to test asymptomatic pets. The negative results from completed tests suggest that dogs and cats living with infected people are not likely to become infected themselves, except in rare and isolated cases."2

Parameters for Testing Pets

Idexx Laboratories, a veterinary diagnostics and software company is making its SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR test for pets available to veterinarians. In a press release, the company explains its rationale:

"IDEXX is launching the test in response to customer demand and growing evidence that in rare cases pets living with COVID-19 positive humans can be at risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection."3

The test became available to veterinarians in North America during the week of April 20th, and Idexx plans to distribute it across most of the rest of the world in the coming weeks through its network of laboratories. The company has already tested more than 5,000 samples from cats, dogs and horses with respiratory symptoms in 17 countries. None of the samples tested positive for COVID-19.

Veterinarians who wish to order the Idexx test (which, for the record, isn't the same test used to detect the virus in humans) must first consult with a public health authority, for example, a U.S. state public health veterinarian. In addition, tests should only be ordered for pets who:

  • Live in a household with a human who has COVID-19 or has tested positive for the virus
  • Have already been tested by a veterinarian for more common infections, which have been ruled out
  • Are showing clinical signs consistent with COVID-19, especially if the pet is a cat or ferret

Further, from the press release:

"Understanding of COVID-19 and its effects on animal and human health is evolving rapidly. Leading health authorities and IDEXX veterinarians agree transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is primarily person-to-person and advise against testing asymptomatic pets."

At the time of this writing, the following associations and agencies do not recommend routine testing of animals for COVID-19:4

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV)

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials

Advertisement
Click here to find out Dr. Becker's 20 Pet Tips for a Healthy 2020Click here to find out Dr. Becker's 20 Pet Tips for a Healthy 2020

Additional Situations in Which Testing May Be Justified

Regulatory authorities and animal health experts listed in the table above indicate that testing may be justified for certain animals in the following situations:5

Animal has clinical signs consistent with SARS-CoV-2, more common causes of the patient's clinical signs have been ruled out, and the animal has a history of

Close contact with a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, or

Exposure to a known high-risk environment where a human outbreak occurred, such as a residence, facility (e.g., nursing home, prison, or cruise ship)

Atypical patterns of disease suggesting a novel pathogen in a mass care situation (e.g., animal shelter, boarding facility, animal feeding operation, zoo) where exposure history is not known (appropriate diagnostics should be undertaken first to rule out more common causes of illness)

Threatened, endangered, or otherwise imperiled/rare animals in rehabilitation or zoological settings that have clinical signs or are asymptomatic and have had possible exposure to SARS-CoV-2 through an infected person or animal

Atypical pattern of disease suggesting infection with SARS-CoV-2 in recently imported animals (appropriate diagnostics should be undertaken first to rule out more common causes of illness)

Testing is part of an approved research project gathering scientific information to better understand if and how animals might be affected by SARS-CoV-2 and help clarify the role, if any, of pets in human COVID-19; approved animal care and use and biosafety protocols are required.

For more information, visit the AVMA's Testing animals for SARS-CoV-2 page and/or the CDC's Evaluation for SARS-CoV-2 testing in animals page.

Symptoms of Coronavirus in Pets

Currently, experts agree that SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs primarily from person to person, and there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus. It also appears from the limited data available that there is very little risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people. In rare instances, it appears people can spread the virus to certain animals (e.g., cats), however, further studies are needed.

Because there have been so few cases to date of SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals, the clinical picture remains uncertain. Based on observations of animals intentionally infected with the virus, along with the handful of infections animals have acquired from people, plus what is known about other coronaviruses, symptoms of the virus in animals include a combination of:

Fever

Sneezing

Coughing

Nasal discharge

Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

Vomiting

Lethargy

Diarrhea

As anyone with a furry family member can tell you, these symptoms occur in a wide variety of dog and cat illnesses, so it's very important that veterinarians rule out much more common causes of these signs before considering the possibility of SARS-CoV-2.

Latest on Keeping Your Pet Safe

From the AVMA as of April 23, 2020:6

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 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."

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."