Hayley Yaglom, a TGen genomic epidemiologist and trained veterinarian, takes a blood sample from a dog in Flagstaff, where TGen’s infectious disease branch is located. (Courtesy photo by TGen)
Taylor Harris’ 5-year-old cat, Sid Vicious, is celebrating Halloween. Months earlier, he was ill with what his vet had diagnosed as COVID-19. Harris thinks he might have got it from Harris’ mother, who lives with them. (Courtesy photo by Taylor Harris)
PHOENIX – The Translational Genome Research Institute has started a new project with the Arizona Department of Health to better understand how COVID-19 affects pets.
There is no critical evidence that pets can transmit the virus to humans, but pets can transmit the virus to other animals. According to representatives from TGen, a nonprofit medical research institute with departments in Phoenix and Flagstaff, more than 120 pets nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19 across the country.
Taylor Harris, 19, of Chandler, saw this firsthand in September when her cat Sid Vicious was diagnosed with the disease. Although pet tests weren’t readily available to confirm the diagnosis, her vet said the cat’s symptoms were consistent with those of COVID-19 and treated Sid accordingly.
Harris’ mother, who lives with her and the cat, contracted COVID-19 just before Sid started showing symptoms.
“My cat is usually very energetic and always wants to be outside and play. And he was just lying around, ”Harris recalled. “He barely moved, he didn’t eat, and when he moved he coughed and gasped. His cough became so bad that he could no longer breathe. ”
Harris hand-fed Sid for weeks because he was too weak to go to the bowl. It took him a month to fully recover.
“I wish there were appropriate tests for cats, dogs, and pets by this time because we weren’t really sure what to do,” Harris said. “We said, ‘Oh, our cat has COVID and COVID is killing so many people. How will he, a cat, react to something like that? Is it deadly to animals? ‘
“There haven’t been any studies on it, so there was a lot of fear and uncertainty.”
TGen hopes to answer some of these questions. Hayley Yaglom, a genomic epidemiologist and lead TGen researcher on the study, said TGen plans to enroll about 100 dogs and cats across Arizona living in households with people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks. Trained veterinary staff will then visit the house to collect nose, stool, and blood samples from the pets.
“A project like this can use this to learn more about COVID and animals,” said Yaglom. “We would like to do this project to support the animal keeping community and the veterinary community and to learn more about what could happen to all of these new strains in our state.”
The new project will also build on One Health, an Arizona disease surveillance partnership that encourages collaboration between local, national, and global organizations. “One health” reflects the idea that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interlinked.
David Engelthaler, director of infectious disease studies at TGen, said the animal study will help answer several questions by analyzing different pets.
“Have you been abandoned?” Asked Engelthaler. “Did you develop antibodies? Do you still have the virus? And to what degree is it then? Is it a large-scale infection causing the symptoms or is it carrying the virus temporarily? ”
The Arizona Department of Health awarded the study a $ 50,000 grant from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
The tests are free. Owners must be at least 18 years old, give their consent and fill out a questionnaire. The pet must be vaccinated against rabies, mainly indoors and tolerant of routine veterinary care.
For more information on testing dogs or cats for COVID-19 please send questions to: [email protected].