by John Maniatty VMD

The new human coronavirus outbreak has been all over the news, and the topic has led to a lot of questions for veterinarians. It is being identified as 2019-nCov by the World Health Organization (WHO). The illness is thought to have originated in Wuhan City, Hubei province, China. A “Wet Market,” a market that has both seafood and live animals, including chicken and pigs, is thought to be the source. The origin of this coronavirus is still unsure as of this article, and further research has to be done. (1) Initially, it was thought bats spread to another species then to humans. Then it was suspected Pangolins (a type of scaly anteater) played a part since their coronavirus appears similar, but no one is really sure. There also are no specific animal reservoirs known at this time. (2)

Coronaviruses are an enveloped positive-sense RNA virus. They have four subgroups alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Alpha and beta infect mammals, while gamma and delta infect birds and fish. (2) There are only seven coronaviruses that infect people, and they are Mers (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome)-COV, Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) -COV, which are both respiratory illnesses just like 2019-nCov. Mers- thought to have originated in camels, and Sars started in bats and spread to cats. Both are beta, along with 2019-nCov. The other four are broken down between alphas, 229E and NL63, and betas, OC43 and HKU1. These four have much more mild symptoms causing more cold-like symptoms and do not tend to be fatal. The symptoms for 2019-nCov are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Transmission for 2019-nCov can result from close contact; less than 6 feet; cough/sneeze aerosolizing respiratory droplets, and possibly fomites (doorknobs, keyboards, pens, etc.) but are less likely. (3) As stated before, there is no known animal reservoir at this time for 2019-nCov.

There are both dog and cat coronaviruses. Neither can be spread to humans and are species-specific. There are two different types of dog coronaviruses one enteric (gastrointestinal) and one respiratory. There is a vaccine for the enteric version, but it will not protect against respiratory. It would not be beneficial to protect against 2019-nCov in dogs in areas where exposure may occur. The enteric coronavirus in dogs tends to create illnesses in puppies and can be fatal in neonates (newborns). The majority of the time, it is self- limiting and clears without treatment. Adult dogs usually have no clinical signs and are only carriers. The respiratory version is one of a group of viruses that causes Canine infectious respiratory disease, a.k.a. kennel cough. (5) In cats, the coronavirus is an enteric form and is highly prevalent; about 80-90% carry it in a multi-cat household. The virus is shed in feces and hence fecal-oral transmission from litterbox usage. The majority of cats do not develop diarrhea, and in those that do, they usually get over it quickly on their own. The coronavirus in some cats can undergo a mutation and become Feline Infectious Peritonitis virus (FIP). It then induces an immune-mediated disease that his fatal at this time. Because it is an immune-mediated disease specific to the host’s immune system, it is thought not to be able to be clinically transmitted. (4)

Even though there is no known animal reservoir, if you or a family member are diagnosed with 2019-nCov, the ill person should avoid handling or being around your pets. This is tough because they bring such comfort in times of need, like when we are sick, but this will possibly protect them if it is possible to pass. Some coronaviruses can cause illnesses in animals and spread between animals and people, such as Sars and Mers. (2) If the infected person must be around them, they should wear a mask to limit/prevent aerosolizing respiratory secretions. There is no evidence at this point that it can be passed to your pets, but we are still early in studying this new coronavirus and need to be safe. (2)

If your pet is exposed to someone who is diagnosed with 2019-nCov and becomes ill, you should take then to a veterinary hospital, but call first to discuss how to bring in. This way, we can limit exposure to clients, staff, and other patients. (2)

shared courtesy of Delmarva Unleashed