The British variant B.1.17 of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was first detected in a dog and a cat from the same household in the county of Brazos in a study carried out by researchers at Texas A&M University .
The research team travels to pet homes to collect samples, including swabs from their nose, mouth, rectum, and fur, as well as a small blood sample. The entire process takes about 10 minutes with the animal in the comfort of its owner and home. (Courtesy photo of TVMDL)
This evidence of the British variant in animals in a natural household setting is the first reported finding of the human variant virus in an animal worldwide. This underscores the importance of procedures for monitoring the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome when crossing species barriers. This would give professionals both insight and more time to study potential new variants before they spread in animal or human populations.
B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in humans in the UK in December, spreads more easily and faster than other variants and may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other forms of SARS-CoV-2. Since it was first detected in humans in the United States, also in December, this variant has now been confirmed in nearly 4,000 people in the United States in 50 countries and is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States in the coming months.
Discovery of pets during ongoing research
“Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in animals in and around households and genetic testing of the virus from infected pets are critical to understanding the transmission and evolution of the virus and predicting what may happen next,” said Sarah Hamer . DVM, epidemiologist at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedicine.
To date, hundreds of pets have participated in the TAMU COVID-19 & Pets study, including the photographed cat that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the summer of 2020 and made an uneventful recovery. Their infection and antibody titers were followed over time. (Courtesy photo of TVMDL)
Hamer is the lead researcher for the Texas A&M COVID-19 and Pets study, which uncovered the variant.
Variant B.1.1.7 was confirmed in both domestic animals, an older black lab mix dog and an older shorthair cat. The pets came from a household where the owner was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-February.
Both pets were tested on February 12, just two days after their owner was diagnosed with COVID-19, as part of an ongoing research project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and researchers at Texas A & M’s College of Texas conducts Veterinary Medicine and Biomedicine, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and School of Public Health.
None of the animals showed any apparent signs of disease at the time they tested positive.
These pets were retested on March 11th. At this point, the owner announced that both the dog and cat had sneezed for the past few weeks. The owner now reports that they are both in good health.
The results of genome sequencing of the breath swabs collected from the animals last month were completed on March 12 at the US Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. The result showed that both the dog and the cat had identical sequences of the B.1.1.7 variant.
The investigation into SARS-CoV-2 infections in humans and pets in this household has not yet been completed.
Testing in Texas
Texas has long been a leader in the number of SARS-CoV-2 animal infections, thanks in large part to the Texas A&M COVID-19 and Pets study. For the study, researchers are going to the homes of people recently diagnosed with COVID-19 to test their pets.
The aim of the study is to learn more about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between humans and animals, the possible effects of the virus on animal health and whether animals can be a reservoir for the virus, i.e. how to maintain it in communities .
“We look forward to continuing our study as the level of vaccination in humans increases to see if our unvaccinated pets are still involved in virus transmission cycles, including emerging variants,” said Hamer.
As of June 2020, the Texas A&M study tested more than 450 animals living in the Brazos County area, all of which lived in a household where at least one human family member tested positive for COVID-19.
Of the more than 60 animals confirmed with SARS-CoV-2 infection so far in the study, less than a quarter showed signs of illness at the time the owner was diagnosed. The most common signs are sneezing, coughing, diarrhea, or being less active than normal. According to the research team, all symptomatic animals recovered without veterinary care.
The viral genome sequences of the dog and cat infected with B.1.1.7 are quickly made available in a public database for use by the broader scientific community so that comparisons with other variants can be made worldwide.
What pet owners should know
“The work of researchers at Texas A&M University shows that pets can also be infected with variants of SARS-CoV-2,” said Casey Barton Behravesh, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s One Health Office.
“Because this virus can spread between humans and animals, it is important for people with COVID-19 to stay away from pets and other animals, just as it is for other people while a person is sick to prevent the virus from spreading for animals. ”
According to the information available so far, the risk of pets transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to humans is classified as low. SARS-CoV-2 mainly spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets that are caused by coughing, sneezing and speaking.
Individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from infection and disease. If contact cannot be avoided, people with COVID-19 should wear a mask around pets and wash their hands before and after interacting with them.
No routine animal testing for COVID-19 is currently recommended, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission. If your pet is showing symptoms, check with your veterinarian, who can screen your pet for common illnesses before investigating for a possible SARS-CoV-2 infection.
More about the study
The Texas A&M COVID-19 and Pets Study is a collaboration between Texas A&M University, including Hamer, and College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences students, Gabriel Hamer, Ph.D .; Apprentices at the College of Agriculture and Biosciences; Rebecca Fischer, Ph.D., from the School of Public Health; the Brazos County Health Department; the Texas Department of Health; the Texas Animal Health Commission; the CDC; the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory.
The project is still ongoing. Those who recently tested positive in the Brazos Valley area and would like to participate in the research by getting their pets tested can learn more at BCS COVID Research. Participation in the research includes the research team collecting swabs and blood samples from pets.
For more information on maintaining pet and human health during the pandemic, please visit CDC’s COVID-19 website.
This story by Jennifer Gaunt originally appeared on the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedicine website.