Coronavirus in dogs and cats

Coronavirus in dogs and cats image
Coronavirus in dogs and cats image

Coronaviruse can cause a number of different infectious diseases in both humans and animals. They sometimes cause common colds in humans.

However, some strains of the pathogen lead to serious to life-threatening diseases. This can currently be seen in the example of the novel coronavirus “SARS-CoV-2”, which is the cause of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 – COVID-19 for short. This is a disease in humans that can be accompanied by severe pneumonia.

Other corona strains are responsible for a disease in dogs and cats. These strains are species-specific, which means that they cause infections in a particular species.

An infection with the canine coronavirus (CCoV) typically leads to diarrhea in dogs . In cats, a comparable disease is caused by the Feline Enteral Coronavirus (FECV) . Both dogs and cats have a good chance of being cured if they are infected with these pathogens.

The situation is different with the so-called Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus (FIPV) . This is a modified (mutated) form of FECV, which in cats causes dangerous peritonitis, the so-called Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), leads.

Can dogs and cats get COVID-19?

Basically, some corona strains can be transmitted between animals and humans. As far as we know, this does not apply to the pathogen causing COVID-19. 

According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), there is currently no indication that pets can contract the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Are dogs and cats involved in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2?

There is currently nothing to suggest that dogs and cats could be involved in the spread of COVID-19. However, the OIE advises that appropriate hygiene measures are observed when dealing with pets if pet owners are sick with COVID-19. The reason for this recommendation is that transmission from humans to animals cannot yet be completely ruled out.

What do I have to consider if I have COVID-19 myself?

The OIE publishes the following recommendations on its website: People suffering from COVID-19 should limit contact with their pets as much as possible and let someone else take care of them.

However, if you cannot avoid contact with your own animal, you should at least follow the following rules:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after contact with your pet, their food and accessories
  • Avoid close body contact with your animal (e.g. do not kiss animals)
  • Do not let your animal lick you
  • Do not share food with the animal
  • Wear a protective mask if necessary

So the good news is that, based on current knowledge, dogs and cats cannot contract COVID-19. However, that does not mean that they are generally protected against coronaviruses.

In the following you will learn how an infection with CCoV can affect the dog and an infection with FECV or FIPV can affect the cat.

The canine coronavirus

A dog can usually become infected with the CCoV through contaminated faeces. Most diseases occur in dogs that are kept in kennels. Dogs kept alone, however, rarely become infected.

Infection happens regardless of age. However, puppies are particularly at risk and can even die without treatment. In older animals, however, the disease is usually mild.

In addition to diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting and a slight fever can occur. The veterinarian makes the diagnosis based on the course of the disease and the quality of the faeces.

A final diagnosis is made through a pathogen detection in the faeces of the sick dog. Treatment of the symptoms is usually sufficient. If the dog loses a lot of fluids, the vet will give him an infusion.

The feline coronavirus

Cats contract the feline coronavirus through their mouth or respiratory tract. The viruses are often excreted in the animal’s faeces or saliva.

Feline Enteral Coronavirus (FECV)

After infection with FECV, the viruses multiply in the cat’s intestines. Mucous diarrhea, vomiting and fever occur, especially in kittens. Deaths are rare and the animals usually respond well to therapy that only addresses symptoms. In contrast to kittens, adult cats often show no signs of illness after infection.

The Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus (FIPV)

In the case of FIPV, the pathogen does not stay in the cat’s intestine, but leads to what is known as a systemic infection.

This means that the viruses spread throughout the cat’s body via the blood. Infected cats develop feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) in this way.

Cats that are kept in larger groups (e.g. cat breeding) are particularly at risk of infection. In principle, cats of any age can become infected with the virus. Most of the time, however, the animals are younger than one year at the time of diagnosis.

Symptoms of FIP disease include:

  • Fever,
  • Weight loss,
  • increasing waist circumference (fluid accumulation)
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes) and
  • (neurological) symptoms affecting the nervous system

Veterinarians also differentiate between a wet and a dry form of infectious peritonitis. However, both forms can exist at the same time in an animal.

The moist form is characterized by the accumulation of fluid in the body (e.g. in the abdominal cavity, pericardial cavity, kidneys). In the dry form, so-called granulomatous and pyogranulomatous changes in different tissues of the body can be detected under the microscope.

These can be found in the eyes, brain, kidneys and liver, for example.

Both forms have in common that they are fatal and that sick cats usually die within weeks or months. There is currently no specific treatment option for FIP.

FIP can be prevented by disinfecting the area or by vaccination. The latter does not have sufficient protection against all strains of pathogens and therefore offers only limited protection against FIP.

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