Coronavirus can be found in many species of animals including cats, dogs and horses. It causes different symptoms in each kind of animal and is not spread between different species. This means that an infected dog can spread the disease to another dog but cannot do so to cats or people.
In dogs, there are two different types of coronavirus. One causes digestive symptoms such as mild diarrhea and disinterest in eating and the other causes respiratory signs such as coughing or sneezing. Rarely they cause more severe signs and usually, when these do occur, something else must be going on that weakens the dog’s immune system. The digestive (gastrointestinal) form of the coronavirus is spread in dog’s feces while the respiratory form is aerosolized and inhaled when another dog coughs. Both forms will usually resolve on their own and do not get serious enough to require hospitalization.
In cats, the coronavirus may cause mild diarrhea but usually no symptoms at all. It is mostly a concern in areas where there is a large cat population that lives closely together such as in an animal shelter. It is spread through their feces and is best controlled by cleaning the litter box daily and disinfecting it weekly.
In horses, this virus is often called the “lying-down disease” because horses may look like they do not feel well but it is hard to tell why. They will demonstrate general symptoms such as diarrhea, not wanting to eat, acting lethargic and potentially a fever. In rare cases, the coronavirus can cause colic or neurologic signs. Occurrence of this disease is uncommon although incidences have been increasing over the past few years. Testing is important to differentiate this disease from others such as Potomac horse fever, clostridium and salmonella.
Generally, animals are not vaccinated against the coronavirus because the symptoms are usually so mild and resolve on their own. The best way to prevent this disease in any kind of animal is by maintaining a clean environment, isolating sick animals, and washing your own hands often before and after caring for animals.
It has not been found that the coronavirus can be spread from pets to people or vice versa.
The CDC states about the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), “To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19.”
Despite this, it is always a good idea to wash your hands both before and after you interact with your pet. Pets can still spread germs that make people sick, even though they do not necessarily get infected, much like shoes or door handles can.