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Top 10 Current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Considerations

Jarod M. Hanson, DVM, PhD, DACVPM, DABT, University of Maryland

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Published Friday, April 3, 2020, at 6:42 AM CST

Infection in companion animals.

The virus SARS-CoV-2 can infect dogs, but cats may be more at risk.

Initial reports from Hong Kong documented 2 dogs that tested PCR positive after exposure to positive owners (other pets reportedly tested negative in the same households). The initial case (a 17-year-old Pomeranian) was repeatedly weakly PCR positive over multiple days, suggestive of poor viral replication. Although initial serology was negative, the final sample tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, indicating infection and a subsequent antiviral immune response.1 Although the dog died, the subclinical presentation suggests that this was unlikely related to viral infection, as the dog had other comorbidities.

Subsequently, a cat in Belgium and a cat in Hong Kong have both tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.2,3


Clinical disease in companion animals.

SARS-CoV-2 does not appear to cause COVID-19 (the clinical disease) in dogs, but has caused COVID-19-like disease in one cat.

The dogs that tested positive in Hong Kong were reportedly subclinically-affected.1 At this point, there are no reports of widespread respiratory disease in pets in countries severely affected by COVID-19. However, the cat infected in Belgium reportedly exhibited clinical signs consistent with COVID-19, including vomiting, diarrhea, and dyspnea.


SARS-CoV-2 can infect other species.

It has been experimentally demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 may infect several other species, including Rhesus macaques.4 A just-released pre-peer review study from China assessed susceptibility and transmissibility in several species and showed that SARS-CoV-2 infected dogs (but replicated poorly), but did not readily infect pigs, chickens, or ducks. The virus did infect and replicate well in cats and ferrets; cats were also able to transmit the virus to other cats.5 


Protect yourself by treating everything as a potential source of infection.

This includes patients, owners, and staff members. Clients and staff with respiratory or flu-like symptoms should not come to the clinic. Admitting patients from owner vehicles can be a good solution to prevent clients from congregating in a waiting area, but ensure staff treat carriers, leashes, collars, the inside of the vehicle, and all materials as if they are contaminated.


Wash your hands.

Wash hands prior to and after examining the patient, to protect both yourself and others from exposure. Prepare for shortages of exam and surgical gloves by learning to wash your hands correctly and encouraging others to do the same.


Practice workplace hygiene.

To prevent spread of disease from patients to staff, or between staff members, routine cleaning practices should be implemented. Cleaning should focus on items likely to harbor the virus, including door knobs, pens, stethoscopes, keyboards/other electronics, and other common contact surfaces. Discourage sharing of items that may act as fomites where possible, and ensure clothing and lab coats are laundered daily.


Most disinfectants will kill SARS-CoV-2.

As an enveloped virus, SARS-CoV-2 is susceptible to most disinfectants, alcohol solutions (60% or higher), cleaners, soap, and even air drying. However, survival is dependent on contact time and varies for each product.6 Importantly, the virus was shown to live on copper for 4 hours, cardboard for 24 hours, stainless steel for 48 hours, and on plastic for 72 hours.7 Other reports have shown RNA on contaminated surfaces for 17 days, but RNA alone does not indicate that live virus was present8 this is a key point to discuss with clients, as it has been widely reported.

CDC guidance recommends using a dilute bleach solution for surfaces likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.9 Floors and other solid surfaces can be wiped with bleach, alcohol wipes, or another appropriate disinfectant. Clinic staff should never mix multiple disinfectants, as mixtures can create toxic or noxious gases.10 


Even if a pet is not infected, it could serve as a fomite.

If the clinic is boarding the pet of a hospitalized owner, the best option is to minimize contact with the pet for 24-48 hours to allow any viable virus to die. Caretakers should immediately wash hands after handling the animal.


Testing of veterinary patients.

While not recommended at this time, testing should be performed in conjunction with state public health authorities.



Practice workplace safety.

Assume anyone in the workflow process could be infected or act as a fomite, and could potentially shed virus for several weeks (up to 37 days or longer based on reports from China).11 Be aware of evolving OSHA and state occupational health reporting requirements for the workplace. If occupational exposure is suspected, contact local public health and/or state occupational health departments for guidance.


For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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