Dog and cat relaxing on furniture

A group of researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Earlham Institute in the UK, as well as from the University of Minnesota, say that a COVID-19 vaccination for pets might be necessary at some point in the future.

Vaccine syringe
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Cats and dogs do not seem particularly prone to severe or deadly manifestations of COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, some researchers say that since transmission is possible between pets as well as between humans and pets (albeit unlikely), vaccinating pets may become an eventuality in the worldwide race to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccinating pets would not only protect those pets and other domesticated animals those pets interact with but could, on a larger scale, prevent further evolution of the virus and a potential risk to humans. Domesticated cats and dogs could also potentially transmit a version of SARS-CoV-2 to local wildlife, causing an uncontrollable situation where that wildlife carries the virus and is able to transmit it to other species, including humans.

As it is understood at this time, the most likely explanation for the current COVID-19 pandemic is that bats were the zoological reservoir that allowed the virus to mutate to the point that it could infect humans. Studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 can also infect a variety of other mammals, including cats, dogs, tigers, minks, gorillas, and other large cats. With few exceptions, these animals are presumed to have become infected after contact with a COVID-19-infected human. These infections are generally mild, causing no symptoms or mild symptoms. At this time, COVID-19 in dogs and cats is not a cause for concern in terms of the individual pet’s health or prognosis.

Animals have a long history of being reservoirs of illnesses that eventually affect and, in some cases, be fatal to humans. In addition to the current coronavirus pandemic, animals were the reservoirs for the coronaviruses causing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which jumped from civet cats to humans in China in 2003, as well as Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, which was transmitted from dromedary camels to humans in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries in 2012. In addition, diseases such as rabies, avian flu, valley fever, cat scratch disease, and salmonella can also be transmitted from animals to humans.

Reassuringly, however, COVID-19 in pets does not seem to translate to worsening the outbreak in humans. William Karesh, the executive vice president of health and policy at EcoHealth Alliance, says, “Cats and dogs don’t play an important role in the maintenance or transmission of the disease to humans… There’s no need for a vaccine from a public health standpoint.” In December 2020, the USDA stated that they have no current plans to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for cats and dogs.

Mink on a rock in the water
Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

Minks are another story, though. Last November, there was a large coronavirus outbreak among the minks in Denmark, leading to the Danish government to order the killing of 15 million farmed minks in the country. There have also been cases found in minks in the United States. The USDA has put out the word that they are accepting applications for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines for minks. Because their stance is that the data does not show that vaccination against COVID-19 would be helpful in dogs and cats, they are not accepting applications for those vaccinations at this time. They will re-evaluate this stance as necessary in the future.

What can pet owners do if they are concerned about their pets contracting COVID-19? First and foremost, human owners should be taking the steps necessary to protect themselves from the illness. This includes adhering to social distancing guidelines, maintaining space between themselves and people who do not live in their household, wearing a mask while in public areas or when physical distancing is not possible, and getting their COVID-19 vaccine as they become eligible to do so. Of course, good personal hygiene in the form of frequent hand-washing and avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands will also help prevent the illness.

In addition, keeping household pets away from the pets of those not in their “bubbles” can minimize the chances that their pets will bring COVID-19 into the household. This means that care should be taken in veterinarian’s offices and other places where pets might be in close proximity. Also, avoiding dog parks and dog beaches might be wise for the immediate future, particularly in places where there is an active outbreak and a large percentage of COVID tests in humans coming back positive.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Pixabay.