The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID, originated from bats and then, probably after passing through an intermediate host, gained the ability to infect humans.
Many new viruses created in this way, such as SARS-CoV-2, retain the ability to infect both animals and humans.
It is well documented that the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects a number of different animals. Cases of COVID have been recorded in animals as diverse as hamsters, ferrets, lions, tigers, minks and non-human primates.
But the question that preoccupies many of us in our cozy domestic worlds is what kind of threat does the virus pose to cats and dogs, the animals we have the closest relationship with?
Can cats and dogs get COVID?
Yes, cats and dogs can get COVID.
Both cats and dogs are infected with the virus. A number of studies testing pets have confirmed the presence of these infections.
One of the more interesting suggestions from a pre-print study (one that has yet to be reviewed by other scientists) is that cats and dogs were less susceptible to the BA.1 Omicron variant compared to previous variants.
It has been speculated that the mutations in this variant, which we know made it more transmissible in humans, may have made it less able to bind to cellular receptors in cats and dogs.
Read more: Understanding how animals get infected with COVID-19 could help manage the pandemic
Who gives it to whom?
While it is theoretically possible for COVID to be transmitted in any direction — that is, from humans to cats and dogs, from cats and dogs to humans, and from these pets to each other — the current belief is that the virus is primarily transmitted from humans. on these pets.
There are a number of possible explanations as to why transmission generally takes place in this direction.
The most likely explanation, however, is that these animals, when infected, generate a much lower viral load than humans and that they can only shed the virus for a short time, making them less likely to transmit the virus.
How common is it in pets?
The question of how common COVID is in animals in general and in pets is being actively researched.
In terms of how common it is in cats and dogs, there are methodological challenges to answering this question in large studies. Try taking a nose swab from your cat and see how it turns out!
Despite the practical hurdles, a study published in June suggests these infections are more common than initially thought. The researchers studied the blood samples from 59 dogs and 48 cats in Ontario, Canada, who lived with people who had tested positive for COVID.
They found that 52% of cats and 41% of dogs had antibodies directed against SARS-CoV-2, suggesting they had previously been infected with the coronavirus. Cats were more likely than dogs to contract COVID in this study, but the authors note that there is a lot of variability in the studies of the prevalence of infection in animals.
Read more: Deer, mink and hyenas have caught COVID-19 – animal virologists explain how to find coronavirus in animals and why people should be concerned
How serious is it in pets?
When a cat or dog develops COVID symptoms, they develop much of the same symptoms as humans.
They generally feel unwell and the symptoms they experience include coughing and sneezing, lethargy and loss of appetite.
But the good news is that the available evidence indicates that infection usually results in either no symptoms or very mild illness. And the duration of their symptoms, if they get them, can be very short.
While it is possible for a pet to develop more severe symptoms, this seems to be uncommon.
So what are we to make of this?
The strong message from what we know so far is that we humans pose a much greater threat to our cats and dogs than to us when it comes to COVID.
Therefore, if you do become infected, it is probably wise to limit contact with your pets, especially when you are most contagious. Just as you probably do anyway, you should treat your pet as you would any other family member when you are sick and do everything you can to reduce the chance of being infected.
However, trying to get your pet to wear a mask is definitely a step too far…
The good news is that even if you were to give your pet COVID, chances are they will have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. And even if they experience a more serious illness, the evidence suggests they will recover quickly.
If you suspect that your pet has COVID and you are not sure what to do, you should of course seek professional advice.