This is a novel, or new, coronavirus. What we know today is only the beginning of the story. This article will be updated as information changes and we know more.
Dr. Nancy Reese’s Guide to Coronavirus for Dog Lovers
Dogs are incredibly important in our lives. Their love for us, and our love for them, is a big emotional support, especially during this coronavirus pandemic. That’s why so many dog lovers are worried about dogs and coronavirus.
There is so much information and misinformation out there. And now that we are all in isolation, many of us have a lot more time on our hands. The rate of spread of misinformation seems faster than usual in this digital age. We hear new “facts” every day, and often there are reversals of some of those “facts” as we get more information about this pandemic.
As an epidemiologist who has also been practicing veterinary medicine for thirty years, I’m in a particularly good position to help you sort fact from fiction. In this article, I’m going to cover:
- What you need to know NOW about coronavirus and your dog.
- Can my dog get COVID-19?
- Testing dogs for coronavirus.
- Can dogs get coronavirus from humans?
- Can I get coronavirus from my dog?
- Can dogs spread coronavirus with their fur?
- Cats and coronavirus.
- How to clean up around my dog.
- If I’m healthy, can I pet my dog?
- If I’m sick, can I pet my dog?
- What if my dog gets sick?
- Personal protective equipment shortages and how they will affect your veterinarian.
- Dog cancer treatments during the pandemic.
- How to be in quarantine with your dog.
- Myth: Animal vaccines can cure COVID-19.
- What NOT to do with your dog during the quarantine.
- About coronaviruses in general, including common dog viruses, and how animal viruses cross-over to humans.
- About this pandemic’s coronavirus, how it compares to the flu and common cold, and whether it is mutating.
- What’s next for coronavirus and COVID-19.
Note: The American Veterinary Medical Association also has a COVID-19 page that they are keeping up-to-date during this pandemic.
What You Need to Know NOW About the Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Dog
This article is long, both because there is a lot to know about this new coronavirus and because, frankly, I have a Ph.D. and I get to use my degree for this. I have a lot to say about the subject!
But based on what we know today, here is the main message for us dog lovers:
- There is no reason to abandon your dog due to coronavirus, because…
- Very few dogs are getting ill from this virus so far.
- Dogs do not appear to be a source of transmission to people.
- You can keep loving your pet as you always have, unless you get sick, in which case, you should be careful. (See below)
So, keep on getting all the benefits and love that your dog has been giving you — those things are more important than ever in the stressful times under which we are living.
The Big Question: Can My Dog Get COVID-19?
At this point, the answer to this question is NOT likely. As a whole, dogs are not getting COVID-19.
To be clear, a few dogs have the virus, but they aren’t getting sick very often. Given the number of dogs that have been exposed (when thousands and thousands of people have the virus in the U.S), it is not at all surprising that we are going to find some dogs with the virus, but it still does not appear to cause significant disease in dogs. And dogs are still a very unlikely source of transmission to people. [All of the same recommendations listed below still hold true!]
There is now one dog in the U.S (North Carolina) reported having mild respiratory signs that tested positive for the virus. However, it is a Pug and they are very prone to all sorts of non-corona virus respiratory issues. He was tested as part of an on-going study of infection and this dog came from a household with infected people. We don’t know for sure if it was the corona causing the symptoms, but happily, the dog is recovering either way. Two other pets in the household tested negative.
So overall we still have very few dogs that have gotten the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
To date, there has been one reported MILDLY sick dog with coronavirus.
Now, you may have heard that dogs in Hong Kong got sick and died from coronavirus. That’s not true.
Here’s what is true: there are two dogs in Hong Kong that tested “weak positive” for the novel coronavirus. That means that the dogs seemed to have the virus because they got a weak positive response. However, they were not SICK, even though they tested a weak positive.
So they had the novel coronavirus, but they did not have COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
These dogs came from different households, and both had infected owners. One of those owners also had another dog, and that dog never tested positive at all.
Now, one of those Hong Kong dogs died, but the cause of death did not appear to be from the virus. It was a 17-year-old Pomeranian, and it died after being released from quarantine without ever having shown symptoms. (Some speculate the stress of quarantine caused the elderly dog to pass.)
Reasearchers introduced the SARS-CoV-2 virus into laboratory dogs and a few did get detectable virus in their feces. A few also developed antibodies to the virus which means their immune systems responded to the virus. None of another set of dogs housed nearby picked up the virus, so the infected dogs did not transmit the virus to other dogs. This again implies that dogs are not an effective virus transmitter to other animals including humans.
As more dogs get exposed to the coronavirus over time, it is possible some could develop symptoms of COVID-19 and get sick … however, as of now, there is only one reported case in the U.S.
Testing Dogs for the Novel Coronavirus
The type of testing used to determine if someone has the novel coronavirus looks for small amounts of virus particles. This means the positive dogs in Hong Kong likely did have virus elements in their system.
But keep in mind that the test does not distinguish between intact viruses and fragments of a virus. Fragments of a virus are not likely to replicate.
The Pomeranian who died tested positive over several days and did develop antibodies to the virus. That means the dog’s immune system was actively fighting the virus. This implies the likelihood of a true (but likely low level of) infection.
Can Dogs Get Coronavirus from Humans?
All indications say the dogs in Hong Kong probably picked up the virus from their human, and not the other way around.
So here’s where we stand:
- It appears that two dogs in Hong Kong picked up the SARS-CoV-2 virus, likely from their humans.
- These dogs have not developed COVID-19 disease.
- One of them died after being released from quarantine, but the cause of death did not appear to be COVID-19, and it was never symptomatic. (It was seventeen.)
- Dogs can carry the virus when experimentally infected, but do not appear to transmit the virus to other dogs (or people!).
Meanwhile, fifteen other dogs and eight cats from houses with owners diagnosed with COVID-19 were tested in China. None of those have come up positive yet, so the transmission to dogs from humans (an anthroponotic transmission!) appears to be at a very low level at this point.
A French study reported that testing of 12 dogs (and nine cats) that lived with veterinary students revealed that none had detectable virus in them. Some of the students had Covid-19, but none of the pets became infected.
Additionally, Idexx Laboratories (one of the largest veterinary diagnostic companies in the US) has tested over 3500 samples from dogs (55%), cats (41%) and horses (4%) in the US and South Korea.
These included animals from the Seattle area where there has been a large number of human COVID-19 cases.
Idexx found 0 positives from all their samples, which is encouraging. However, we do not know how many of those samples came from infected households. It’s possible that no humans in the tested animals’ lives had the novel coronavirus to begin with.
Can I Get Coronavirus from My Dog?
While this coronavirus may have emerged from animals (bats, and possibly pangolins, see below), it is very important to realize: there is NO evidence that dogs can, or have, transmitted the virus to their owners.
There is NO evidence that dogs can, or have, transmitted the coronavirus to their humans.
Viruses like certain hosts better than others. That’s why we don’t tend to get the exact same viruses as other animals (and why it is so concerning when we do).
It is very possible that dogs could turn out to be what is called a “dead-end host” for this novel coronavirus.
Being a “dead end” is exactly what it sounds like: the virus can’t go anywhere once it arrives in a host. The virus could enter an animal (human or any other kind), but can’t replicate itself well, and can’t spread from that host to another host.
In this case, an animal could be infected but not infectious.
As of now, it seems like dogs can be infected by the novel coronavirus, but they do not develop symptoms and get sick, and they do not spread it. They may be infected, but not infectious.
And again, only a very few dogs have been tested and found positive, to begin with.
This is good news because we all know we need our dogs as much, if not more, under these days of increased stress and shelter-in-place orders. I know I need my Chloe!
Can Dogs Spread Coronavirus on Their Fur?
There is some concern for dog fur being a “fomite” for infection. A fomite is a mechanical carrier of some infectious agents.
For example, fomites could include paper money, shared utensils, and doorknobs. Most fomites are contaminated by having droplets from the nose or the mouth land on them or by a hand that has droplets on them.
It goes like this: an infected person aerosolizes the virus by sneezing and coughing. The droplets of virus land on the surfaces around them.
This is why you want to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, preferably doing it into a tissue that you promptly throw away. And this is also why handwashing is so important!
If you do not wash your hands, often, and you are infected, you could absolutely spread the virus by touching fomites. Those fomites could be your doorknob, light switch, countertop, or dog.
It turns out that this particular virus seems to stick to smooth surfaces better than porous ones. That’s good news for us dog lovers because dog’s fur is porous.
So likely, our dogs are not transmitting the virus well on their fur. However, it’s a good idea to practice good hygiene right now:
- Clean surfaces you touch often and well, particularly slick and smooth ones like stainless steel and countertops and doorknobs.
- Wash your hands every time you cough or sneeze, and after you touch anything that has not been cleaned.
- Groom your dog regularly to remove any loose fur, and dispose of the fur right away.
- Wash your hands after grooming and petting your dog and don’t touch your own face until you do.
What About Cats and Coronavirus?
Cats are different from dogs, of course, and in some important ways when it comes to Coronavirus and COVID-19.
There was a report of a sick cat in Belgium testing positive for coronavirus in its feces. But before you automatically assume that the cat was sick because of the novel coronavirus, remember, cats have respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms from many much more common illnesses. It could be that the cat was sick from one of those, and just happened to also have the virus (or parts of the virus) in its feces. Given additional cases now, we do know that cats can occasionally pick up the virus and can have mild symptoms.
Past research has suggested that pigs, cats, and ferrets could be more likely to get infected with the SARS-CoV (1 and 2). This is because they are similar to humans in an important way: they have the ACE2 receptor, which these viruses attach to.
From some early experiments, it appears cats and ferrets are susceptible which does not seem surprising based on the above research. But surprisingly, pigs turn out not to be susceptible at this point.
We do know that tigers can get sick, based on the news reports from the Bronx Zoo. There is a tiger at the zoo who was symptomatic and tested positive. Then, other tigers and lions in the zoo also developed respiratory symptoms and have now tested positive for virus in their feces. The assumption is that a human (who has since tested positive for the virus) infected the big cats while caring for them when the caretaker was still asymptomatic. The virus then passed from the original infected tiger to a few other big cats.
So it’s pretty clear that cats can get infected from us. And they can spread the virus to other cats. Luckily, the big zoo cats are all expected to recover.
Is it possible that cats could spread the virus to humans? Yes, it is, although we don’t know yet that they do. Cats were able to shed the original 2002 SARS-CoV (see below) when infected, which means they could spread it from their bodies. Other cats could pick up the virus from an infected cat. BUT, it was never found that they actually transmitted the virus back to humans. Maybe the same will be true for this SARS-CoV-2 virus.
For now, both cats and ferrets seem to have increased potential to be infected (more than dogs, see discussion below).
In two different studies, both cats and ferrets were experimentally infected, and both species shed the virus to a few of the other cats and ferrets in the near vicinity. Even so, none of those cats showed any clinical signs. Additional studies have had similar findings.
So this means that at this point, cats can pick up the virus from other cats, at least in experiments. But this doesn’t mean they are going to be significant problems in this pandemic.
We also have two cats in New York that have showed mild symptoms and tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. One of the cats lived in a home with a known infected human, but there was no ill human in the other household. The assumption for now is that there was an asymptomatic person with the virus in the house.
My advice if you have COVID-19 and you have cats: Isolate yourself away from your pets so they don’t get infected. Pets aren’t in contact with a wide range of other people or animals in quarantine … so the only place they would pick it up is from you!
What Coronavirus Disinfectants Can I Use Around My Dog?
Here’s a nice thing about the coronavirus: it is relatively easy to inactivate.
(We use the word inactivate instead of kill when it comes to viruses. This is because technically, viruses are not alive because they can’t replicate themselves on their own. They must use a host’s “machinery” to replicate themselves. For some scientists, no ability to replicate = not alive. That’s why we say we “inactivate” viruses, rather than “kill” them. But this is a whole other discussion!)
The coronavirus can remain viable (capable of still infecting a person) on some surfaces for hours to potentially days depending on the surface material. Remember, slick, smooth surfaces are more likely to give the virus a good place to hang out than porous ones.
Luckily, slick smooth surfaces are also easier to clean than porous ones.
Also luckily, viruses have a “fatty jacket” that is broken down with soap and water! That means it’s fairly easy to inactivate this virus with good old soap and water.
Here’s a good and entertaining video about how to properly wash your hands:
But to be safe, use a disinfectant as well.
Visibly dirty surfaces like countertops should be cleaned (soap and water will work) before applying a disinfectant.
Make sure you use something called a disinfectant on its label because that’s important. You can find a very long list of effective disinfectants from the EPA at https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2.
Now, you should never apply disinfectants directly to yourself or your pets. However, most disinfectants when used according to label directions are safe to clean surfaces that your dog may contact (floors, etc.). Many need to be diluted for use and remain on the surface for 1-10 minutes to be effective.
I’m Healthy: Can I Pet and Cuddle and Kiss My Dog?
If you are healthy, and your dog has not been around anyone that is sick, there is no reason to interact with your dog any differently than you do now.
That said, good hygiene is always recommended when touching your dog and the coronavirus should not change that.
You can pick up much more common things than coronavirus from your dog, so make sure you wash your hands thoroughly (20 seconds at least) after touching your dog.
If your dog was around sick people, then careful grooming while wearing appropriate PPE (gloves and possibly a mask) could be considered.
I’m Sick: Can I Pet and Cuddle and Kiss My Dog?
If you are sick my advice changes. Out of an abundance of caution, I think you should isolate yourself from your dog (and cats and ferrets too!) so there is no opportunity for the dog to get infected.
Remember, we have some evidence that dogs can pick up the coronavirus from their humans. So far none have been sick from it – but still, we don’t want to run an experiment with our dogs.
So what does isolation look like?
Avoid coughing/sneezing around your pet and don’t pet, snuggle, or let your dog lick you.
Let someone else in the household pitch in to take care of the dog.
If you live alone, or if no one else in the house can help, or if you depend on your dog as a service animal, then good hand and environmental hygiene is even more critical.
For example, if you are ill, wearing a face mask would be reasonable while you are around your dog to keep her from picking up any virus.
What If My Dog Gets Sick While We Are in Quarantine?
If your dog gets sick, call your veterinarian before taking him or her in. They may want you to come in for a visit, but more often they will try to give you advice to treat at home. That’s because while veterinary services are still considered “essential services” in most states, and most vets are still working, services may be more limited.
Most clinics are currently treating only emergency and urgent care appointments.
So, call your veterinarian to discuss whether your dog should come into the clinic or if home care can be done.
If you do have to go in, many clinics are having “curbside service.” You may be asked to stay in your car while staff takes your information by phone or from several feet away from your car. Then, a staff member will take the animal in for treatment without you.
This protects both the veterinary staff from any potential exposure to infected people and protects you from contracting the virus from exposure to other people that have been in the clinic.
If you are ill yourself, you will be asked to have someone else bring your dog in.
If you have COVID-19 yourself, and if you are worried your dog has developed symptoms that could be from COVID-19, make sure you tell the staff this! This will allow them to take protective measures and make the appropriate diagnostic tests. Remember, dogs haven’t been sick from COVID-19 as of now. But that could change as we find out more about this pandemic. (Hopefully not!)
Personal Protective Equipment Shortages Are Limiting Veterinary Care
Veterinarians use the same personal protective equipment (PPE) that frontline human medical staff do. Things like masks, gloves, gowns, and even ventilators that are used in hospitals are also used by veterinarians.
This is why veterinarians are limiting visits to urgent care only during this pandemic. It reduces the use of PPE, which is likely to be in short supply over the next several months as human medical workers work overtime to help people who are sick.
We really need those medical workers to have PPE. It’s what keeps them safe while they work. If they get COVID-19 in large enough numbers, guess what happens to the rest of us? That’s right – hospitals lose the ability to handle patients, and people can die who would have otherwise lived.
There are already several large veterinary hospitals that are donating PPE items (and even ventilators!) to their human counterparts. Elective animal surgeries like neuters and spays are also being postponed, to minimize the use of gowns/masks/gloves that can be used elsewhere.
Dog Cancer Treatments During the Pandemic
Chemotherapy treatments can be toxic for the humans who administer them, and PPE is always used during these treatments. So, if they run out of PPE, veterinarians might not be able to safely provide chemotherapy for dog cancer.
Different treatment centers are handling this in different ways. Some treatment centers are continuing to treat on-going cancer cases. Some are not starting any new cases on chemotherapy. Some are consulting with the local veterinary clinics to help general practice veterinarians treat dogs in their own practices. (Not all general practitioners will be able to administer chemotherapy, though.)
In addition to limiting chemo services, many non-critical follow up appointments for rechecks are being postponed.
If your dog is currently in cancer treatment, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian or oncologist and find out how they are proceeding.
If your dog has cancer, this is a must-read. Get the low-down on conventional treatments, but also on nutraceuticals, supplements, diet, and lifestyle treatments. Every bit helps!
Dogs and Quarantine: A Few Suggestions
There’s a joke going around that this quarantine is hard for us humans, but our dogs are thrilled with the extra company and attention.
That might be true for some or even most dogs, but maybe not for all. The disruption in the dog’s routine may cause some anxiety for her.
Some dogs are very conditioned to their routine (and we won’t even mention cats!) and the change in schedule may be a little upsetting.
To help your dog adjust, I suggest the following:
- Try to keep mealtimes the same as they usually are.
- Don’t start giving your dog extra treats just because you see those big brown eyes looking up at you more often during the day.
- Aim for more quality time, rather than more treats.
- How about more exercise? It helps to tire your dog out and makes them more relaxed.
This is also a VERY good time to start regular examinations of your dog to try to find lumps and bumps earlier. Dr. Ettinger has a great vlog on this subject and now would be a perfect time to get in the habit of a regular check-for-lumps-while-small exam. This might result in you finding a problem sooner than you would have otherwise, and that might improve the overall outcome.
Myth: There Vaccines for Animal Coronavirus Infections We Can Use for The Human Coronavirus
In a word, NO, this is NOT true. It’s a myth that we already have a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.
Animal corona vaccines (dog, cat, cattle) ARE NOT appropriate for the human SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a big family, and each member is different from each other member.
The vaccines we use in dogs, cats, and cattle were developed for particular strains of intestinal coronaviruses. They do not offer cross-protection with the respiratory coronaviruses.
Just because there is a vaccine for one coronavirus in one species does NOT mean that same vaccine will work on other coronaviruses. Even the dog intestinal coronavirus vaccine does not protect against another dog coronavirus that causes respiratory signs!
For all the non-animal misinformation out there, you can check out the WHO myth busters link: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters
What You Shouldn’t Do with Your Dog During the Pandemic
I wish I didn’t have to write this part of the article. But apparently, it’s important to say the following.
Do not abandon your pets.
There is NO reason to abandon your pets. At this point, there is no indication they are involved in spreading this disease. Shelters have had to reduce staff and functions. They are in desperate need of people to adopt and foster dogs to receive ongoing care. Please, do not add to the burden. No one needs to give up their pets during this time!
Don’t buy a coronavirus dog mask.
Your dog will not appreciate it, and by the time it is slobbered on and made moist, it will be less effective. That warm, damp environment is also ideal for other types of bugs. Ick.
Instead of buying a mask, just keep your dog away from infected humans. Wash your hands before and after touching your dog — especially if you have come in contact with the virus.
Don’t take your dogs heartworm prevention.
Experiments have shown that ivermectin (an ingredient in some types of heartworm prevention) has some effect on the coronavirus. However, the doses needed to have that affect might be toxic enough to kill a human. The FDA has issued a statement notifying people to not take their dogs heartworm prevention and to report any fraudulent products claiming to treat COVID-19.
Briefly, About Coronaviruses
Here’s where my epidemiology background comes in handy: explaining viruses.
Coronaviruses (CoVs) are a large family of viruses, with many different strains. The family of coronaviruses is broken down into alpha, beta, delta and gamma genera. (Genera is the plural for genus, which is a closely related group of organisms within a family.)
CoV infections are quite common in animals and humans.
Alpha and beta CoVs tend to infect mammals.
The delta and gamma CoVs tend to infect birds and fish.
Many of the corona strains are species-specific, meaning that they only infect one type of animal. (This is true of many viruses.) CoVs are usually species-specific because every virus needs a particular receptor in order to attach to cells, and receptors may not be the same from species to species.
Let me explain a little. In order to replicate, viruses need to use the “machinery” of their host. They need to be able to get inside the cell to use that machinery.
And the way to get into a cell is through a receptor, which is like a little door on the cell wall.
If the virus can’t attach, then the cell doesn’t get infected.
So if a virus infects an animal that has its receptor, it can get inside its cells and start to replicate itself.
If a virus infects an animal that DOESN’T have its receptor, it can’t attach to its cells at all. No cells, no machinery, no replication.
Some receptors only occur in specific host species, which is why some viruses can only infect certain species of animals.
But some viruses attach to more generalized receptors, receptors that are found in more than one species.
If a virus can use those more generalized receptors to get into cells, then more host species have the chance to become infected.
Common Dog Viruses
Let’s look at some specific viruses that affect dogs.
Most dog lovers are familiar with the disease called parvo, short for parvovirus. (Parvovirus is another family of viruses.)
A dog can get canine parvovirus and have severe intestinal disease, but this same virus has no effect on humans at all. (Humans do have a version of parvovirus but it is a different species and causes a very different condition in humans.)
Another common virus in dogs is dog or canine coronavirus (CCoV). CCoV causes mild intestinal disease in young puppies and is one of the many causes of diarrhea in young puppies. And yet, again, this virus has no effect on human beings.
Now, there is a corona vaccine for dogs to prevent the CCoV intestinal illness in puppies. But this dog corona vaccine is specific for the canine version of the intestinal coronavirus. It has NO crossover protection for the current pandemic strain. So, in case you are wondering if you should get your dog the corona vaccine, the answer is no, it won’t help with the human novel coronavirus pandemic.
Cats can get a specific coronavirus that can turn into the dreaded disease called FIP (feline infectious peritonitis). That virus is also species-specific – it has no effect on dogs or humans.
When Animal Viruses Cross to Humans
There are some strains of coronavirus that are zoonotic — capable of being transmitted from animals to humans.
(If a disease is capable of being transmitted from people to animals, it’s called anthroponotic, in case you were wondering!).
Zoonotic: animal to human. Anthroponotic: human to animal.
Familiar examples of (non-coronavirus) zoonotic diseases include Rabies and Ringworm. Ever wonder why states are so firm about rabies vaccinations for our pets? Because the virus is zoonotic – it can come from animals to infect humans.
Some zoonotic viruses “spillover” from an animal species to humans. We use the word spillover to indicate that humans are not the primary host of the virus but they can “accidentally” acquire it. In other words, the virus didn’t start out or even really like humans as a host … but it can infect them. Zoonotic coronaviruses do this.
Once a virus spills over and adapts to humans as a host, it can then spread from human to human, potentially causing pandemics. (An epidemic is the spread of a disease in a region. A pandemic is a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world).
In these cases, the virus emerged from an animal source, but changed slightly in the human host to allow human to human transmission. For example, several varieties of influenza (the flu, another family of viruses) started in animals and then adapted to human hosts.
There are seven known coronaviruses that infect humans, and several are suspected of originating in bats. But most of them also involve another animal species that actually transmitted the virus to humans, so don’t blame bats for all this.
(Please, don’t blame bats! First of all, not all bats carry these specific coronaviruses. Second, the ones that do carry it don’t carry all of the coronaviruses. Third, it was other species that carried the viruses to us. Don’t be afraid of bats – they are hugely beneficial, including eating a lot of disease-carrying mosquitos!)
Today’s Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19, the Disease It Causes
The current pandemic is caused by a novel (new) coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.
This virus causes a human disease called COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease 2019).
SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus from the beta family or a beta coronavirus, and it’s closest human-infecting relative is SARS-CoV (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus).
You may remember the SARS-CoV outbreak in 2002. The virus originated in bats and infected masked palm civets, small nocturnal carnivores related to weasels and mongooses. Some cultures consider these mammals to be a delicacy. Humans picked up SARS-CoV from masked palm civets: undercooked civet meat may have started the 2002 SARS-CoV outbreak once the virus developed the ability to spread from human to human.
Today’s COVID-19 pandemic is caused by SARS-CoV-2, this new coronavirus. We suspect it also originated in bats, but some other species was involved in the spillover to humans. Currently, the pangolin (a type of “scaly anteater” mammal) is suspected.
And now, of course, we know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has developed the capacity to spread human to human. And this has created the current pandemic.
Is the Coronavirus a Flu or a Common Cold?
Flus are part of a different family of viruses called influenza. The common cold is a little different. What we call a cold can be caused by either a rhinovirus (another family of viruses) or, yes, one of four other members of the coronavirus family.
Interestingly, while we think of the common cold coronaviruses as being only found in humans, scientists believe otherwise. At least one of them (HCoV-OC43) originated in bats, transmitted to camels, and then to humans. The other corona “cold viruses” also have an origin in various non-human animal species.
Another beta coronavirus, MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus), also started in bats, transmitted to camels, and then to humans. The difference is that MERS caused more than “a common cold.” It caused a deadly outbreak in 2016.
Unfortunately, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is not “just a common cold” either, for many of those who get it. COVID-19 can really wreak havoc in some people, as you are probably only too aware.
Is the Coronavirus Mutating?
Genetic analysis has discovered that the current COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, has mutated (changed) at least twice so far. At this point, three “strains” (an “A” and an “B” and a “C” stain) have been discovered and the different strains seem to be circulating in different parts of the world.
But if there are continued mutations, and if those are significant enough, it could impact the behavior of the virus. Transmission could be affected, and the disease severity could change. The vaccines in development today might not work as well on a mutated strain in the future.
Hopefully, that won’t be a problem. Coronaviruses don’t usually change as quickly as the influenza viruses do. But, significant changes could affect vaccine development and possibly the way we have to diagnose and treat COVID-19.
What’s Next for Coronavirus and COVID-19
There is still a lot we don’t know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. We are still in the early learning phase of the outbreak.
It is amazing how much we have learned already in the four-five months since the (presumed) start of it. But … there is still a lot to learn before we can get a better hold on how to control it.
We need to find the reservoirs to try to prevent this from happening again. We need to know the true prevalence (how and where the cases are occurring), and we need to know the full host ranges.
And we will have to monitor if the virus is changing.
With so many moving pieces, we could change recommendations down the road. The American Veterinary Medical Association is frequently updating the information that affects our pets. You can check out: https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19 to get updated information as we learn it.
I will also update this article as new information comes out. In the meantime, no matter what, we need to keep taking care of our dogs. They are always there for us and we have to be there for them.
I can’t think of better companions in times of stress, change, and anxiety than our dogs.
All the best,
Nancy Reese, DVM, MPVM, PhD
Dr. Nancy Reese is a small animal veterinarian with over 30 years of clinical experience taking care of cats and dogs and other critters in the Sierra Nevada foothills. She’s also a perpetual student and researcher, as evidenced by her many degrees. In addition to her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of California, Davis, she earned a Masters in Preventive Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis and then a Ph.D. in Epidemiology at UC Davis. If you string all her letters out after her name it looks like this: Nancy Reese, DVM, MPVM, PhD. In her spare time, she volunteers to help evacuate and shelter animals caught up in disasters, and she’s currently training to help in human search and rescue efforts. Dr. Reese lives in a log cabin with her husband, her 13-year-old golden retriever, and her two 13-year-old cats. Her hobbies include boosting the quality of life and longevity for all animals in her care, hiking, travelling, and cross-country skiing. Oh, and lots of dog walking.