Covid-19 and Dogs: What You Need to Know 1

As many of you are aware, there was a news story that made headlines last week stating that a pug in North Carolina named Winston tested positive for the novel Coronavirus. Because Winston is the first dog in the United States (and the third worldwide) to test positive for the virus, a number of questions have arisen about what this means for dog owners.  Unfortunately, some news outlets have sensationalized the story (as they are inclined to do since their compensation from advertisers is often based on clicks) and this has given way to some panic and confusion for clients.  Given my vocation, I dove into as much scientific research that I could find on the matter.  My goal was to look at the science, not just the headlines.  In so doing, I came across a veterinary podcast in which Dr. Carlos Goncelo des Neves, the current Director for Research and Internationalization at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute and formerly Head of Virology and Emerging Threats, also at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute,  “reviews coronavirus basics and natural history, diagnostics, and pathology in light of the discovery of SARS-CoV-2. He discusses the animal origins of this virus and its appearance in non-human hosts.” He also addresses the likelihood (or lack thereof) of a companion animal (for our interest dogs though he also talks about cats) transmitting the virus to humans.

The podcast is long, but I encourage those of you concerned to listen to it in its entirety as it is quite informative.  A few important notes as it pertains to dogs that I gleaned from the podcast, as well as a couple follow-up articles (whose links are below):

  • Winston was tested for SARS-CoVI-2 using a real time PCR test which only tests for the presence of the genomic material of the virus. Because Winston’s blood was not tested for Cov-19 antibodies, it is unclear whether he was actually infected with Covid-19, which would mean that the virus replicated inside him, or whether he tested positive simply because a positive owner, for example, sneezed on him.  Doctor John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, for one, does not believe he was truly infected.  While the family notes that Winston presented with mild symptoms including lack of appetite, this alone does not garner enough information to confirm conclusively that he was infected by the virus, as testing positive for the virus on a real time PCR, and suffering from some other ailment, for example, a basic canine cold or gastrointestinal issues, are not mutually exclusive.  More diagnostic testing, including blood work, would have needed to be done to confirm a true infection.  As Carlos Goncelo des Neves mentions, if an owner with the flu brings a cat with flu like symptoms into the Vet for an exam, the Vet is not going to test the cat for the human flu.  Winston may have simply been feeling under the weather from something very ordinary, benign and specific to canines.  More testing should have been done.  In any event, his symptoms cleared within a couple days and he is fine – and back to eating breakfast (his family’s biggest concern) – now.
  • According to Carlos Goncelo des Neves we still cannot confirm that dogs are “hosts” of the virus in the truest sense of the word, because again, more diagnostic testing needs to be done on any dog that tests positive in the future. However, if they are true “hosts”, meaning the virus can replicate inside of them, they are most certainly dead-end  hosts as they are not able to pass the infection on to any other species, and it is unlikely that they can even pass it to each other.   Doctor Fauci, the CDC, and Dr. John Howe (President of the American Veterinary Medical Association), have all stated that there is no evidence that dogs can pass the virus to humans.
  • It is significant to note that out of the three animals in Winston’s household – 2 dogs and a cat – he was the only one to test positive (his owner said he was the most “snuggly” of the bunch).
  • Unlike Parvovirus, which can last a long time in the environment, coronaviruses are enveloped and therefore not very stable, meaning they die off fairly quickly.
  • All cornonavirus – and there are several them – tend to be species specific or host adapted meaning they do not jump species. Rabies, a zoonotic virus, would be an example of a virus that is the opposite of coronaviruses.
  • Hong Kong has done a lot of testing on companion animals living in Covid-19 households; thus far, the only animal found to have COVID-19 antibodies has been a cat.
  • Dog fur is a poor fomite, meaning, the virus does not live and then spread on a dog’s  easily.  As the AVMA states, “smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g.,
    countertops, door knobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g., paper money, pet fur), because porous, and
    especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch.
    Because [dog] hair is porous and also fibrous, it is very unlikely that you would contract COVID-19 by petting or playing
    with your pet. However, because animals can spread other diseases to people and people can also spread diseases to
    animals, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands before and after interacting with animals; ensure your pet is kept well-groomed; and regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding material, and toys.”
  • Given the information obtained from studying the SARS-1 virus (also a Coronavirus) and based on research on the current novel corona virus, the official stance is that dogs do not transmit Corvid-19 to humans. There are no documented or even suspicious cases of a companion animal transmitting the virus to a human.  The novel Coronavirus has spread in 160 countries, and there are over three million confirmed infections; the virus is under tighter scrutiny than any infectious disease in the history of the planet: if a dog was able to transit this virus to humans, we would  have seen it by now.

At the end of the day, every person needs to do what is best for their particular situation when weighing risk vs. reward as it pertains to our current pandemic.  I am confident enough in the current scientific evidence pointing to the low risk of dogs spreading the virus that I will be bringing my own dog to play group next week.  Dingo, at age 13, is mostly retired, though she may be looking for a respite from my (almost) 3-year-old son who has chosen her as his most favorite playmate during quarantine.

I have implemented some additional policies and procedures and installed an additional gate at the daycare which will aid in social distancing and eliminate (or at least minimize) the need for staff to touch collars and leashes.

I, like everyone else, continue to learn about the novel Coronavirus as well as its implications.  I welcome your feedback as well.  If anyone has any additional questions, concerns, or comments based on the research I have done, please do not hesitate to reach out.

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One thought on “Covid-19 and Dogs: What You Need to Know

  • Vanessa Capone

    Nancy, this is a great article and I appreciate you going out of your way to do the research and put this together. I’ll be sharing this information my Facebook page!