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More Pets May Be Getting COVID-19 Than Realized

THURSDAY, Sept. 17, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- There are "substantial" rates of coronavirus infection in dogs and cats whose owners have COVID-19, new research shows.

The researchers also found that, in several cases, infected pets had COVID-like respiratory symptoms at the time their owners were infected.

SARS-CoV-2 has been reported to infect a number of animals, but the risks, susceptibility and symptoms in different species have been unclear.

To learn more, Canadian researchers swabbed the noses, throats and rectums of 17 cats, 18 dogs and one ferret. To determine current infection, the animals were tested within two weeks of a confirmed coronavirus infection or COVID-19 symptoms in their owners.

Blood samples also were taken from eight cats and 10 dogs whose owners were outside the two-week window of infectiousness. This was to determine recent or past infection.

All of the tests for current infection were negative, but coronavirus antibodies were found in the blood of all eight cats, indicating past infection.

Owners reported that all eight cats had respiratory and/or other illnesses around the time of their own infection.

The findings are to be presented at the online European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease (ESCMID) Conference on Coronavirus Disease, Sept. 23 to 25. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Two (20%) of the dogs had coronavirus antibodies in their blood, indicating past infection. One had respiratory symptoms, the researchers noted.

"These preliminary results suggest that a substantial proportion of pets in households of persons with COVID-19 become infected," said study co-author Dr. Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

"Due to the narrow window of time available to detect a current infection in pets, especially if their owner is still sick and isolating, blood testing the animal at a later time to check for previous infection is preferable for assessment of human-to-animal transmission," she said in a ESCMID news release.

Bienzle pointed out that animal-to-human transmission of the virus has been reported on mink farms with a high proportion of infected animals maintained in close quarters and cared for by humans.

"Transmission from pets to humans has not been reported, but since the virus changes minimally or not at all after transmission from humans to animals, such reverse transmission may occur," she added.

The upshot: People with COVID-19 infection should keep away from their pets.

"There is sufficient evidence from multiple studies, including ours, to recommend that SARS-CoV-2 infected persons should isolate from people and animals," Bienzle said.

More information

The American Veterinary Medical Association has more on the new coronavirus and pets.

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