FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As omicron sweeps through households in Florida, more pet owners are reporting their dogs or cats showing signs of coronavirus.
While COVID-19 in pets is a rare event, veterinarians now know it can happen. Pets around the world, including cats and dogs, have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, primarily after close contact with people with COVID-19.
A maker of a COVID PCR test for pets, IDEXX Laboratories, tested more than 5,000 specimens taken from dogs, cats and horses with respiratory illnesses. Tests have confirmed more than three dozen cases of COVID in a dog or cat during the pandemic. Animals were most often in a focus where humans had the virus.
Unlike the proliferation of home kits for humans, the COVID test for pets is a nasal or throat swab that must be ordered and performed by a veterinarian.
Florida vets treat symptoms
Dr. Alison Birken of Victoria Park Animal Hospital in Fort Lauderdale said if a dog or cat comes to her office with symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting and a member of the household has had COVID, she treats symptoms rather than testing the animal for the virus.
“It’s not common for dogs and cats to contract COVID from humans, and if they do, the signs are mild,” she said.
Cats are more susceptible than dogs and more likely to contract COVID from their owners, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some cats that tested positive for COVID became ill with breathing and breathing problems, and one cat also had vomiting and diarrhea, according to VCA Animal Hospitals veterinarians.
Big cats, especially tigers and lions, have also been affected by the virus. An outbreak at the Bronx Zoo in New York state, likely due to an infected zookeeper, has resulted in coughing and respiratory problems in four tigers and three lions. Another outbreak of Malayan tigers has occurred at the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee.
Rodents also got the coronavirus. Last week, Hong Kong announced the culling of more than 1,000 pet hamsters and the quarantine of their owners in response to fears the coronavirus had been passed from pets to humans. COVID cases have also been confirmed in mink, ferrets, gorillas, snow leopards and cougars.
What the research shows
Researchers at Texas A&M University sampled more than 580 pets living in homes where at least one person was infected and found that 100 of the animals were also infected. Only about a quarter of those infected showed signs, and they were mild.
“Infected people who share space with their pets can infect their pets, just as humans can infect other people,” said Sarah Hamer, senior researcher at Texas A&M examining the impact of COVID. -19 on pets.
Because Omicron is highly contagious, social media is filled with messages from pet owners who are convinced their dog or cat is carrying the virus.
Wellington vet Dr Mark Planco said he had only seen one dog with upper respiratory disease after its owners tested positive. Because the symptoms were mild, the dog was not tested and picked up on his own.
“COVID testing is happening primarily on farms where the virus could cause significant losses,” Planco said. “Right now, susceptibility is low for pets. We may end up with a mutation that is more capable of infecting dogs and cats, but so far I haven’t seen it.
The CDC has said a dog or cat with COVID will exhibit these symptoms: fever, cough, difficulty breathing, sluggishness, sneezing, runny nose, loss of appetite, discharge from the eyes, vomiting, and diarrhea.
With omicron still infecting people in Florida, vets say if you have COVID, you can also take steps to prevent your cat or dog from getting the virus: and sleep in the same bed. And wear a mask and wash your hands before and after interacting with your pet.
Dr. Lori Teller, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said pet owners need not worry too much. “A few hundred dogs and cats tested positive compared to millions of people.” She said there is no research indicating that pets can transmit COVID to each other.
If your dog or cat shows signs, vets say they would test them for the most common respiratory illnesses first, before ordering a COVID test. Teller said vets will treat symptoms by recommending your pet get plenty of rest and fluids and, if needed, anti-inflammatory or fever-reducing medication.
Teller said no one knows why some dogs and cats get COVID. “That is the question of the hour. It is likely that these animals with comorbidities such as diabetes or heart disease are at risk. The same comorbidities that put humans at higher risk.
“The best way to protect your pet is to protect yourself,” she said.