There has been a lot of misinformation shared online about Covid-19, how it affects humans and pets.
A small number of pets worldwide have been found carrying the virus. This is likely due to very close contact with their owners who have already contracted Covid-19. Experts are studying whether pets can infect their “pet parents,” but so far there’s no evidence that kind of transmission is helping spread the disease.
In a LABORATORY setting, cats have proved the most susceptible species for SARS-CoV-2. They can get sick with Covid-19, and they can spread the virus to other cats.
Virtually all cats carry some kind of coronavirus, though not necessarily Covid-19. In fact, species-specific coronaviruses are quite common. But canine and feline coronaviruses do not infect humans.
LABORATORY tests have also shown that ferrets and golden Syrian hamsters can be infected with Covid-19 in the LABORATORY. They can transmit the infection to other ferrets and hamsters.
Dogs can get infected in the LABORATORY, but they don’t typically get sick. They also don’t easily spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to other dogs.
A few species of primate – macaques and marmosets, for instance – have also been infected with Covid-19 in the LABORATORY, and can get sick from it.
Even when deliberately tested in the LABORATORY, mice, pigs, chickens and ducks do not seem to get infected, or spread the infection.
You may have heard that in April, a Malayan tiger tested positive for Covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. It turned out that three other tigers as well as three African lions at the zoo also had the virus.
The big cats were infected by a staff member caring for them, the zoo says, before that human showed any signs of the disease. They have all since recovered.
Mink (closely related to ferrets) were found to be infected with Covid-19 on several mink farms in the Netherlands. Farm workers tested positive for the virus, and it is likely they infected the mink. Some cats on the farms developed antibodies to the virus, suggesting they had been exposed to it.
In the United States, where 5.5 million people have so far contracted Covid-19, the government has recorded 14 dogs with the virus, 13 cats, 4 tigers, 3 lions and 2 mink.
So suffice to say, it is highly unusual for pets to get infected with Covid-19 in the first place. The United States is home to 76.8 million dogs, and 58.4 million horses, and another 51.3 million other pets from reptiles to horses. Yet there have been 36 Covid-19 cases, 7 of which were in a zoo. It’s a miniscule percentage.
If you yourself get Covid-19, it is best to arrange for another person or a vet to care for your animal. At Pets Central, we offer a cleaning, grooming and boarding programme for pets from quarantine households.
Of course, it is likely that Covid-19 spread to humans from an animal source. SARS in 2003 is likely to have made the species leap from bats and then to civet cats to humans in Guangdong wet markets. MERS in 2012 was traced dromedary camels in Saudi Arabia, which were then in close contact with their handlers. It’s likely MERS made the species jump from bats to dromedaries “sometime in the distant past,” according to the WHO.
Why are bats so often the source of viruses? They may also “store” Ebola, Marburg, Nipah and Hendra viruses, which have all led to deadly outbreaks.
As the only flying mammal, bats have special adaptations that allow their cells to break down and release DNA, which floats around inside their body. This would cause inflammation in other mammals, but they’ve learnt to withstand it. This immune response also allows them to withstand many viruses without feeling any effects, viruses that would make many other mammals sick.
The SARS-CoV-2virus is closest in type to one found in horseshoe bats. The virus may then have leapt to another animal host, then to humans. This chain has not been established, though, so what species linked the disease in bats to humans remains a mystery.