WSAVA stresses no new evidence of COVID-19 transmission from pets

08:50 AM | October 8, 2020 | Joseph Harvey

Experts have stressed there is no new evidence of COVID-19 virus transmission from pets to people.

During a recent webinar hosted by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), speakers highlighted animals that have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 have displayed only mild symptoms and there is no evidence of transmission from a companion animal to a new human.

This means if a pet caught the virus from their infected owner, there is no evidence the animal will then pass it to another person in the household.

The experts urged veterinarians to encourage pet owners not to abandon animals testing positive for the virus. Michael Lappin, chair of the WSAVA's One Health Committee, confirmed the virus is a reverse zoonoses where infected humans have passed it to companion animals in the very few cases that have been reported.

The WHO has reported more than 28 million confirmed cases in humans, while the number of incidences in companion animals tracked by the OIE "remains tiny". Dr Lappin added outbreaks on mink farms in the Netherlands and US earlier in 2020 were likely to have been caused by human transmission. He said while more dogs, cats and ferrets would undoubtedly test positive over time, veterinarians need to remember the context and numbers overall remain very small.

Turning to how SARS-CoV-2 affects companion animals, Dr Lappin explained experimental studies at Colorado State University found cats showed no signs, shed the virus for a short period only, could transmit the virus to other cats and demonstrated a robust antibody response. Dogs also showed no signs, did not shed live virus and also demonstrated a robust antibody response. Further data is being collected to investigate if the clinical illness in naturally infected dogs or cats is common or important – it is currently unclear whether these animals require specific treatment.

Richard Squires, chair of the WSAVA’s Vaccination Guidelines Group, reminded veterinarians risk-benefit analyses are always relevant to vaccination consultations but are more important than ever during the pandemic.

He suggested vaccination priority should be the protection of puppies and kittens using core vaccines with the last or only dose given no earlier than 16 weeks of age, due to persistent maternal antibody interference in some young animals.

Dr Squires said the second priority should be protection against potentially life-threatening diseases that are locally prevalent, using non-core vaccines. He stated the annual revaccination of adult dogs and cats with modified live virus core vaccines is a much lower priority. Dr Squires also pointed out veterinarians must remember there is no reason to believe existing coronavirus vaccines will protect pets against SARS-CoV-2.

Dr Peter Karczmar, member of the WSAVA One Health Committee, recommended all veterinary clinic staff should wear masks to protect themselves from other potentially infected people, as face shields alone do not offer adequate protection. He also suggested drop off services for clients, daily temperature monitoring of staff and the adoption of staggered shifts.