- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2021

Pets can catch variants of the coronavirus from humans and become seriously ill, new research shows. 

Four cats and two dogs fell ill with the highly contagious alpha variant, also known as the B.1.17 variant, and then developed heart problems, a study published in the journal Veterinary Record found. 

Two pet cats and one dog tested positive for the disease in a PCR test. Two other cats and one dog developed coronavirus antibodies two to six weeks after experiencing symptoms of cardiac disease, according to the study published Thursday.  

Most of the pets’ owners had experienced respiratory symptoms for weeks before their cats and dogs fell ill and tested positive for COVID-19 themselves. All of the pets were referred for acute onset of cardiac disease including myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. 

The study highlights the risk that pets can be infected with the coronavirus, lead author Dr. Luca Ferasin, of the Ralph Veterinary Referral Centre in the United Kingdom, told Science Daily. 

“We also reported the atypical clinical manifestations characterized by severe heart abnormalities, which is a well-recognized complication in people affected by COVID-19 but has never [been] described in pets before,” he said. 

Dr. Ferasin added that COVID-19 infection in pets seems relatively rare and that it appears that humans are spreading the virus to pets rather than the reverse. 

While pets can catch the coronavirus, it is not clear if the alpha variant is able to more easily infect particular animal species or increase the chances of human-to-animal spread, the researchers noted. 

Earlier evidence shows that coronavirus variants can infect pet dogs and cats as well as mice.

Veterinarians in Texas and the UK in March reported infections of the alpha variant in dogs and cats.

Meanwhile, French researchers have discovered that the B.1.351 variant from South Africa and the P.1 variant from Brazil can infect lab mice, raising questions about whether mice and other rodents living close to humans can become “secondary reservoirs” for the coronavirus with potential spillback to people. 

There also have been reports of COVID-19 infections in ferrets, zoo animals including otters and several types of big cats, farmed mink, and wild white-tailed deer in several U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to people. More studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC says on its website. “Some coronaviruses that infect animals can be spread to people and then spread between people, but this is rare.”

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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