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Canine coronavirus in the U.S.—How should veterinary practices respond?
Yes, a dog tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, but there is no need for owners to panic, says Dr. Scott Weese. People pose a far greater risk to pets than vice versa.
By now, you—and your clients—have likely heard that a pug from North Carolina is believed to be the first dog in the U.S. to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The dog making headlines, Winston, belongs to a Chapel Hill, North Carolina family that is participating in an ongoing disease surveillance study conducted by Duke University. As part of the study, each of the McLean family members, including a cat and two dogs, was tested. Although Winston was the only pet in the household to test positive, three of the four human members of the family did as well.
“To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which the virus has been detected in a dog,” Christopher Wildrick Woods, MD, principal study investigator, said in a statement. The amount of virus detected was quite low, Dr. Woods reported, “suggesting that [Winston] would not be a likely mechanism or vector of transmission of virus to either other animals or to humans in these households."
“It is completely unsurprising but bound to freak people out,” said J. Scott Weese, DVM, DACVIM, an associate professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, in response to the positive test. “But this report doesn’t change anything,” he added during a Facebook Live discussion hosted on April 29 by the Viticus Group, formerly known as Western Veterinary Conference. “We’ve been saying for a few months that this is a human infection but we can pass it on [to animals].”
Dr. Weese explained that it is important for pet owners to be aware that the dog in this instance—as well as the cats, lions and tigers that have also tested positive—likely contracted the virus from its human caretakers. “We know there is some degree of susceptibility,” Dr. Weese said. “We don’t know yet if it’s 0.1% or 1% or even 10% because very few animals have been tested.”
If a veterinary patient contracts the disease, it is not the dog that poses a risk to veterinary staff but rather the owner, Dr. Weese said. As long as veterinary hospitals continue to maintain the precautions in place as a response to the pandemic—curbside check-ins, wearing masks and gloves, etc.—this positive canine case is not cause for additional concern. “This dog is the first diagnosed dog in the United States but it is almost certainly not the first dog in the U.S. [to contract the virus],” he explained.
To calm clients’ fears, Dr. Weese said veterinary staff should encourage clients to adhere to social distancing guidelines for their pets. “There is basically no chance your dog is going to bring COVID-19 into the household if you socially distance it,” he explained. “The risk is to the animal, not from the animal.”
Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.