If big cats such as pumas, cheetahs, lions, and tigers are being vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s reasonable to wonder if a small house cat should be vaccinated too.
Two weeks ago, it was announced that the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium would soon be vaccinating some of their animals.
Zoetis, the vaccine being used at the Columbus Zoo, is in the process of being rolled out. And for those who are wondering whether to vaccinate their cat or dog at home, Dr. Jeanette O’Quin, associate professor at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, has updates about the status.
“Currently, we don’t have an approved vaccine. We have a similar (one) to what we see in the human side, we have an emergency vaccine approved for use in situations where animals are at higher risk or especially if they’re necessary to conservation programs, or if they’re of great value, that kind of thing.”
However, according to Dr. O’Quin, there’s a big difference between vaccinating animals at the zoo and the animals in your household.
“So what we’re seeing with the wild cats, specifically, is that they do get COVID — they’re not at high risk — but they do get COVID, and they do get sick from it. So, protecting those animals makes a lot of sense; and they are also in high contact with a lot of people, so their risk is higher than, say, a cat that lived somewhere where it hardly saw anybody. I think it’s important to also note that all cats are not the same. Our big cats are a different species than our pet cats.”
She said although some domestic animals are susceptible to the virus, the effect the virus will have on the animals can be very low. In a study O’Quin shared by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, a mobile veterinarian unit was sent to houses to test animals that were living with an owner infected with COVID-19.
“Six of 154 cats (3.9%) and 7 of 156 dogs (4.5%) tested positive for COVID-19, while 31 cats (20.1%) and 23 dogs (14.7%) had coronavirus antibodies,” the study concluded. Eleven pets were tested again one to three weeks later. All 11 animals tested positive for antibodies and three cats were still positive for COVID-19, but the animals had mild or no symptoms.
But there are still some clinical signs to look for if your pet has been exposed.
“COVID-19 signs in pets are usually respiratory like sneezing or coughing, occasionally diarrhea is present. The majority of cases in cats and dogs do not have any symptoms of illness,” Dr. O’Quin said in an email.
And even if your dog or cat starts sneezing or coughing, Dr. O’Quin said there are many other things a veterinarian will look for first.
“There are so many other agents out there — viruses and bacteria that can cause respiratory disease or other signs of illness and are, therefore, be far more likely to be causing an issue than this coronavirus,” Dr. O’Quin said.
One of the reasons dogs and cats are inherently at lower risk of contracting the virus is the low exposure they have with people outside of their household. While humans are out at the grocery store or meeting up with friends, pets are more likely to be waiting at home in the bubble — much like humans were during quarantine.
Although, some dogs are more likely to travel along with their humans to the bar, park, or out with friends. So it’s reasonable to wonder whether dogs are at risk of being infected by other dogs.
Dr. O’Quin not only works with animals one on one, but also works a lot with animal shelters where dogs are always in close proximity, and the question of whether or not dogs can infect one another with COVID-19 is an important one to ask.
“We would expect that if it was going to spread among cats and dogs, that we would see that in a shelter… Anytime you have them in close proximity, so boarding kennels, doggie day cares, pet stores even, anytime we have group housing — pet shows — we would expect those kinds of environments to see it first, and we’re not seeing that happening. In fact, there were a couple of different universities that did projects with shelters, to sample for antibodies, and it really didn’t detect much of note at all. So we’re not really seeing transmission among those species — like they’re not spreading it to each other in a natural setting.”
Dr. O’Quin added that COVID-19 is a human disease — which is why it’s so important for owners to social distance, mask, vaccinate, and wash hands.
However, because humans can carry and infect pets, Dr. Hale, an assistant professor who works in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at Ohio State University, referenced the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for how to treat your pet when infected with COVID-19.
“Within your household, if you are sick or if someone in your household gets sick, you should distance from your pet just like you might distance from another family member — wash your hands really well before you touch them or after you touch them, especially if you’re sick — try to have someone else feed them, try not to have contact with them, try not to let them lick your face.”
And as for you getting COVID-19 from your own pet, Dr. O’Quin said it’s unlikely.
“Covid-19 is a human disease, and it is spread person to person. So that’s really the biggest concern that we have.”
According to the same study done by Utrecht University in the Netherlands that Dr. O’Quin shared, the lead author, Dr. Els Broens said, “Fortunately, to date no pet-to-human transmission has been reported. So, despite the rather high prevalence among pets from COVID-19 positive households in this study, it seems unlikely that pets play a role in the pandemic.”
So yes, you can spread COVID-19 to your pet, but studies have shown, it’s unlikely they can spread it to you.
Dr. Hale has evidence to prove how little of a risk COVID-19 is for pets. During the past year, Dr. Hale has worked with the Environmental Surveillance for COVID in Ohio Understanding Transmissions — otherwise known as ESCOUT.
On the team are clinical veterinarians who work at animal shelters. They deal with both agriculture and wildlife, testing animals broadly to see if there is a presence of the virus. Although they do not test house pets, after testing over 1,500 animals in those chosen environments, Dr. Hale said, “To date, we have not tested a single positive animal here in Ohio.”