THURSDAY, July 1, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Can Pets Get COVID-19 From Their Beloved Owners? Yes, you can.
In fact, two new studies suggest that COVID-19 is widespread in cats and dogs in households where someone has contracted the virus.
But at a virtual meeting of the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology slated for next week, both research teams will report that infected pets are not yet at risk of COVID-19 for their owners.
Instead, investigators say, the risk of transmission seems to go the other way, with infected owners very often – though not always – passing the virus on to Fido and Fluffy.
“If someone has COVID-19, there is a surprisingly high chance they will pass it on to their pet,” said Dr. Dorothee Bienzle. She is the lead study author and professor and veterinary pathologist at the University of Guelph Veterinary College in Ontario, Canada.
This is particularly the case with cats, said Bienzle, who noted that cats appear to be significantly more susceptible to COVID-19 infection through their owners than dogs.
“We knew that [both] Cats and dogs are susceptible to COVID-19, but we didn’t expect such a high rate of infection in cats living with COVID-19 positive people, “she said.
After Bienzle and her colleagues ran antibody tests on 48 cats and 54 dogs from 77 different households in which one owner had been diagnosed with COVID-19, they found that more than two-thirds of the cats in COVID-19 households ended up doing it too the virus, compared to only 43% of the dogs.
Bienzle said that for now it is unclear why cats seem more susceptible.
“The susceptibility to infection depends on many factors,” she noted, “such as how much of the receptor is expressed in the nose, mouth, eyes, and windpipe [windpipe] and lungs, and how efficiently the virus can get into cells after binding to the receptor. These factors are likely to be different in dogs and cats, but we don’t exactly know yet. “
What Bienzle’s team knows, however, is that the risk of infection is far lower in pets that do not live in close proximity to COVID-19 patients. Antibody tests carried out on 75 cats living in animal shelters found that less than 10% had antibodies to COVID-19. And in 75 stray cats tested, that number dropped to just 3%.
Biencel’s conclusion: “I don’t think pets pose a broad health hazard to humans.”
This conclusion is supported by Dr. Els Broens, a European veterinarian for veterinary microbiology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Broens, co-author of the second pet study, agreed that “appears to be the most likely route of transmission from human to pet”.
That was the conclusion she and her colleagues came to after testing 156 dogs and 155 cats from 196 households with COVID-19 positive household members.
“In 20% of households, pets tested positive for SARS-CoV-2,” said Broens. “[But] This percentage is quite high compared to other studies of dogs and cats who have not been in close contact with COVID-19 positive people.
That finding, she said, strongly suggests that “pets are unlikely to play a significant role in the pandemic,” as the direction of transmission is from owner to pet, not vice versa.
Before pet owners become unduly concerned about their furry best friends, both Broens and Bienzle have good news: although a minority of COVID-19 cases in pets can prove serious, research has both found that cats and dogs with COVID can become more common -19 Infect Symptoms are usually mild and a full recovery is the norm.
And there can actually be simple ways to reduce the overall risk of getting infected with pets.
To that end, Broens said infected pet owners should try “to avoid contact with their pets as much as possible and to keep their pets indoors as much as possible”.
Similarly, according to Bienzle, infected owners can protect their pets by dealing with the situation “as they would protect themselves from an infected person: do not breathe the same air, keep your distance, practice good hand hygiene”.
And that’s especially important to keep in mind with cats, she said, as the study found that the risk of infection appears to be higher in cats that spend more time with their owners, especially cats that sleep in the same bed as an infected owner.
The same concerns don’t seem to exist in dogs, Bienzle noted, adding that the specifics of cat biology – and its tendency to sleep closer to their owner’s face than dogs – could explain the increased risk in cats.
However, Bienzle acknowledged that pet isolation or social distancing is simply not possible or practical in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, in such cases, owners would do well to consider their pets “potentially infected”.
The research results presented at the meetings are considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For more information on pets and COVID-19, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Dorothee Bienzle, DVM, PhD, Professor and Veterinary Pathologist, Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada; Els Broens, DVM, PhD, Veterinarian for Veterinary Microbiology and Associate Professor and Director, Department of Biomolecular Health Sciences (Clinical Infectious Diseases), Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, The Netherlands; Presentation, virtual meeting of the European Congress for Clinical Microbiology, 9.-12. July 2021