No evidence pets can become ill with COVID-19 virus as it surges in US
AVMA concerned about potential drug shortages; veterinary events canceled as a precaution
Greg Cima and Malinda Larkin
March 25, 2020
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials see no evidence that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in people sickens pets or can spread to people through pets.
But the agency is advising, out of an abundance of caution, that people who become sick with the coronavirus should limit contact with their companion animals, just as they should limit contact with people. World Health Organization officials also indicated they saw no evidence pets have become ill with or could spread the virus.
Meanwhile, the AVMA and government agencies continue to monitor the availability of medical supplies and animal drugs as well as other potential impacts to the profession as the virus continued to spread in the U.S. in the first few months of the year. A number of universities and organizations cancelled classes and events to allow for social distancing.
Animals and COVID-19
“When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick,” according to a CDC FAQ document updated in February to add information on animals. “If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.”
Though the virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, CDC officials also saw no evidence that animals or animal products arriving from China or elsewhere pose a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. More information is available at jav.ma/cdc_covid.
Late in February, authorities in Hong Kong reported that they quarantined a pet dog after its owner was hospitalized because of COVID-19, and nasal and oral cavity samples tested “weak positive” for the COVID-19 virus. Four subsequent nasal samples continued to test “weak positive,” but test results for nasal samples collected on March 12 and 13 came back negative. The region’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the results suggested a low-level infection likely acquired from a person, and they said World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) officials agreed with their findings.
“The dog has not shown any signs of disease related to COVID-19,” Hong Kong authorities said. The companion animal was returned to the owner after completion of quarantine and consecutive negative test results. The dog, identified by the South China Morning Post as a 17-year-old Pomeranian, died on March 16, the department said in an email, citing the animal’s owner. The AFCD gave no further details.
OIE officials separately characterized the positive nasal sample results as “presence of genetic material from the COVID-19 virus” and said the organization lacks evidence dogs become sick from the virus or play a role in disease spread.
On March 19, Hong Kong authorities said they quarantined two more dogs—a German Shepherd Dog and a mixed-breed dog whose owner had COVID-19—after a polymerase chain reaction–based assay detected COVID-19 virus in a sample from the German Shepherd Dog but not the other dog. Neither dog showed clinical signs of disease.
Idexx Laboratories Inc. announced March 13 that it has seen no positive results to date of SARS-CoV-2 in pets. Idexx evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens during validation of a new veterinary test system for the COVID-19 virus, according to a company press release. The specimens were obtained from those submitted to Idexx reference laboratories for PCR assay testing.
The company says if health authorities determine it is clinically relevant to test pets, it will make the test system available, but neither the CDC nor the AVMA is recommending that pets be tested at this time. Dogs or cats with respiratory signs should be evaluated by a veterinarian for more-common respiratory pathogens before looking to evaluate them for COVID-19, according to an AVMA FAQ for veterinarians and veterinary clinics.
On March 19, Antech Diagnostics announced that it also has not detected any evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in samples from dogs and cats.
Monitoring potential drug shortages, conserving masks and gowns
Since February, AVMA leaders have been working with the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other experts and international disease authorities to gather the latest information on the coronavirus for veterinarians, clients, and patients, available at avma.org/coronavirus. Aside from keeping veterinary team members healthy, ensuring as much access to care for ill patients as possible, and other concerns, AVMA leaders are worried about potential drug shortages as COVID-19 disrupts supply chains, especially because six of the 32 companies that produce animal-use drugs in China or that use active ingredients from China to produce drugs for the U.S. market indicated to the FDA they have seen disruptions that could lead to shortages.
No animal drug shortages were reported as of mid-March.
The website notes that FDA officials were working with the companies to find ways to mitigate shortages, and the AVMA was collecting information on drug needs and veterinarians’ concerns. The AVMA is asking that veterinarians send information on supply chain issues to coronavirusavma [dot] org, with details on the products and their manufacturers or distributors.
FDA officials also forecast short supplies of personal protective equipment such as surgical masks, gowns, and suits, as well as isolation gowns.
Guidance from the FDA on surgical mask and gown conservation strategies is available at jav.ma/masks.
Event cancellations, online classes
As cases of COVID-19 ramped up over the beginning of March, academic institutions reacted by taking greater precautions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 illness.
The 50th Annual Student AVMA Symposium, slated for March 14-16 at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, was canceled after organizers conferred and the university called off all nonessential events or work-related gatherings scheduled between March 9 and April 15 that involved more than 100 people.
Student organizers were working with college leadership to identify ways to provide recorded lectures for registrants to view, according to a post on the event’s website.
The Veterinary Innovation Summit, which was to be held April 3-5 at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, was also canceled because of caution over COVID-19. All registration fees were to be refunded and cancellation fees waived.
Many universities with veterinary colleges announced in mid-March that they were suspending face-to-face instruction and testing for various lengths of time during the spring semester to allow for social distancing. Instead, universities encouraged educators to move their courses online and to prepare to continue that way as long as in-person instruction seemed inadvisable, potentially through the end of the semester.
Many clinical rotations were being cancelled and veterinary teaching hospitals were curtailing operations to enable social distancing, according to a March 15 announcement from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. “Schools are working with students who are in clinical rotations and externships on an individual basis to re-assign them or make alternative arrangements as needed,” the announcement said.
The AAVMC also noted that its impacted member institutions were working with the AVMA Council on Education to ensure they maintain the highest quality of education during this time.
“The COE requires schools to report any disruption to the educational program lasting two or more weeks and to describe their plans to remediate the disruption. The COE is reviewing these plans to ensure they are in compliance with the standards of accreditation,” the announcement said.