The fact that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can infect animals, including cats and dogs, was identified early in the Covid-19 pandemic. The first cases have now been reported in which cats and dogs were infected with the so-called “UK variant” of the coronavirus, also known as B.1.1.7. Of particular concern is that some infected animals have also been diagnosed with a heart condition known as myocarditis. It is not yet clear whether this condition was caused by the coronavirus infection, although researchers have highlighted the need to identify the link.
Where did the cats and dogs get infected?
The infections were discovered in two locations – the UK and the US – and reported in separate studies. Humans of all pets had tested positive before the infection was detected in animals, suggesting human-to-animal transmission.
A study is part of an ongoing project by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, that includes monitoring of pets living in high-risk households with people with Covid -19 live. The researchers discovered an infection with the B.1.1.7 variant in a black laboratory mix dog and a shorthair cat from a household in which their human was diagnosed with Covid-19 in mid-February.
Heart disease was found in a number of cats and dogs in the other study, conducted at the Ralph Veterinary Referral Center near London. Two cats and a dog who had developed myocarditis subsequently tested positive for the B.1.1.7 strain of SARS-CoV-2, while antibodies to the virus were found in three other cats. The study is awaiting peer review and is currently on a preprint server.
What is this heart disease?
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood normally. It can be caused by a number of factors, including a viral infection. The severity of the symptoms varies; In extreme cases, patients with myocarditis may suddenly lose consciousness or show signs of heart failure.
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What is the connection to Covid-19?
While the UK paper does not identify coronavirus infection as the cause of myocarditis in animals, it does state that myocarditis, related to multisystem inflammatory syndrome in humans, is a well-recognized complication of Covid-19. “The link between myocarditis and B.1.1.7 152 infection in pets needs to be recognized and addressed,” it said.
In fact, the British animals were first diagnosed with myocarditis and later with a viral infection. RVRC vets noticed a sudden increase in the number of domestic dogs and cats with myocarditis. “This sudden spike in cases appeared to mimic the curve and time course of the COVID-19 pandemic in humans in the UK due to variant B.1.1.7. In particular, most owners and carers of these pets with myocarditis had Covid-19 respiratory symptoms developed within 3-6 weeks before their pets became sick, and many of these owners had tested PCR positive for Covid-19, “they write.
The researchers examined eight cats and three dogs, three of which tested positive for B.1.1.7 and three showed other antibodies.
Are people or their pets at risk?
During the pandemic, several experts who have studied coronavirus infection in animals have observed that pets appear to be at a higher risk of infection from humans than vice versa. In domestic animals, cats appear to be more susceptible than dogs because the ACE2 protein on their cell surface, like in humans, facilitates initial contact with the coronavirus spike protein.
The Texan researchers have also highlighted the fact that pets appear to be more vulnerable than humans. “Based on the information available to date, the risk of pets transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to humans is classified as low,” Texas A&M University said on its website. “… People with suspected or confirmed cases of 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. “
How are the animals infected with strain B.1.1.7?
In Texas, none of the animals showed any obvious 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 university said.
In the UK study, none of the 11 animals with myocarditis developed influenza-like symptoms, and all clinically improved within days of intensive care. But one cat relapsed a week after being released, and her humans decided to euthanize her.