When we talk about coronaviruses, especially given how the’re responsible for the pandemic we are now trying to survive, it makes for a compelling suspense thriller when the plot is tinged with conspiracy. But for me to prove that I am sane and prudent, I have to explain why people like to subscribe to conspiracy theories, may they be about politics, tabloid-level gossip, science, or events that lead to catastrophic outcomes, such as epidemics.
These elements are frequently present for one to be a conspiracy theorist, which I read in a 2016 online article published in The American Interest.
- Paranoid construct – Everything that is objective and verifiable gets replaced by a paranoid construct that substitutes complexity with simplistic statements, coupled with allegedly infallible logic. The simplicity of this reasoning appeals to people who are not trained to think critically. It insists that tolerant, democratic governments have been fooling the “unthinking, gullible masses.”
- False dichotomy – These conspiracy theories – and by extension, the flawed logic that support them – always lead to dualism: Everything is only either good or evil, with no grey areas in between. The flawed logic continues with the idea that what isn’t good is therefore automatically evil. Those who disagree are dismissed with prejudice as also being bad, or at least ignorant of the truth.
- Distorted interpretation – The third and deadliest element is the distortion of facts out of context, from which false conclusions are drawn.
These three elements are present even in conspiracy theories regarding coronaviruses. I will then ty to give facts, it hopes that these theories are busted.
The coronavirus is not new among companion animals. Diseases caused by them are diagnosed often, such as the canine coronavirus, for which we already have an antigen test.
Below are some of the coronaviruses present in dogs and cats, knowledge of which I derived from peer-reviewed articles on veterinary practice, medicine, and microbiology, as well as my own veterinary practice of 23 years.
Also known as CCV, CcoV, or dog coronavirus, the canine coronavirus is spread through contact with oral secretions or infected feces. They are fairly resistant and remain infectious for longer periods outdoors at frozen temperatures, or even in warm, ambient settings, such as common in the Philippines. This makes them common in kennels, pet boarding facilities, groomers, dog parks, or even among other dogs.
One may be able to tell if a dog has coronavirus if a once bright, alert puppy who is unvaccinated is suddenly lethargic.
Depression: loss of appetite; and sudden onset of explosive, acute diarrhea that may be soft, watery, bloody, or fetid are other signs. Puppies are especially vulnerable to dehydration, and if left untreated, may be fatal.
The clinical picture seems to resemble Canine Parvoviral Enteritis (CPV), which is why a side-by-side test is done in one kit, called the CCoV-CPV test.
Dogs at risk are those who come from shelters, rescue centers, breeding kennels, or pet stores.
Many may recover without treatment. However, for puppies, confinement may be prudent to give fluids, electrolytes, or supplementary medication given intravenously.
Antibiotics are not indicated, unless sepsis or severe entoritis is suspected, especially in puppies or dogs living in multiple-pet homes.
Minimize trips to grooming shops and dog parks. Minimize engaging with other dogs as well, especially as dogs tend to have a habit of licking everything and contracting the disease in this way.
While not a core vaccine, a coronavirus shot may provide immunity, but this remains a controversial topic. Using vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Authority may be advised, as long as guidelines on dose frequency and interval are followed.
Strict sanitation measures must be ensured n all facilities prone to coronavirus outbreaks, including pet cafes.
The verdict is generally good as the virus is self-limiting, and the dog eventually recovers, unless there is a co-infection with CPV. Sometimes, dogs come back due to repeated cases of soft stools, but recovery is usually expected.
Is COVID-19 transmissible to dogs?
The transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to canines has brought about so much controversy.
IDEXX Laboratories, a corporation engaged in the development of products and services for companion and medicine, evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens to validate a new veterinary test for the COVID-19 virus. They have declared that dogs and cats are in no danger of contracting the virus and are also incapable of transmitting it.
CCoV is usually a mild infection that does not need treatment, and is often limited to the gastrointestinal tract.
CCoV can mutate, resulting in possibly more dangerous strains. Signs of a mutated strain may include high fever, extreme weakness, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and even two days after these signs first appear.
There may be a pronounced reduction of white blood cells, dropping 50% below normal. Neurologic signs are also seen, such as uncoordinated movement and seizures.
However, an outbreak of fatal diseases in puppies is usually caused by a variant isolated from organs with severe lesions. This variant is called the Pantropic Virus, and it causes severe, fatal, multi-organ, multi-systemic involvement.
While CCoV tends to stay in the gut, it may not remain there. The pantropic variant is proof; however, it has not reemerged since it was found in Italy.
CCoV is related to coronaviruses found in cats and pigs!
The porcine transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV), CCoV, and feline coronavirus (FCoV) display greater than 96% sequence identity. For this reason, all three were grouped under the same species, alphacoronavirus I.
Do bats really harbor the coronavirus? Yes, but there is as yet no solid evidence connecting the canine coronavirus to bat soup.
Also known as CoV, the feline coronavirus can cause Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), a major killer of young cats, and one of the most researched infections of the species.
FIP is a relatively new disease of cats and only became clinically significant in the late 1950s. It may have come from a virus jumping from one species to another. This is fairly common among coronaviruses.
A cat with FIP may manifest with fever unresponsive to medication and accumulation of fluids in body cavities. There is respiratory, nervous, and ophthalmic involvement.
There is no combination of antiviral drugs definitively proven to be effective. There are, however, anecdotal reports that somehow, they work.
Treatment options revolve around providing relief, such as relieving pressure build-up in the abdomen, and encouraging cats to continue feeding.
In about 5 to 10% of infected cats, either by a mutation of the virus or by an abnormality of the immune response, the infection progresses into clinical FIP. The likelihood of death in cats with FIP is relatively high.
Kittens who die of FIP may appear depressed or weak initially. Some cats may seem intially healthy and playful, only to suddenly become ill. Once a cat develops clinical FIP, the disease is progressive and is almost always fatal.
A cat with FIP is encouraged to eat nutritious food. Their human is advised regarding the disease, including the poor outcome. Euthanasia is discussed as a possible intervention down the road.
(There is no definitive laboratory test for FIP as it is a syndrome. No kit exists to determine at one glance that a cat has FIP; test kits merely show the presence of antibodies to coronavirus, not the diagnosiss of FIP. Fip is diagnosed based on an ill cat’s myriad manifestations. -Ed.)
Blood tests may reveal the reduction of red and white blood cells. The gradual increase in the abdominal size is most disheartening to me as it is another ominous sign of impending death.
An affected cat’s activity is restricted to avoid infecting others. However, they tend to shed viruses the most before they show signs.
Are your cats and dogs safe?
Health experts agree that COVID-19 is primarily a human illness, usually transmitted directly trhough droplets. An animal’s fur, which is porous, is thought to be a less-than-ideal surface for transmission.
Animal companions are not supposed to be unnecessarily given routine tests for COVID-19. There is enough evidence to suggest that there is no stable disease created by SARS- CoV-2 in companion animals.
(IMPORTANT: There is no need to abandon or kill feline and canine companion animals as they do not contribute to the COVID-19 pandemic. -Ed.)
Can animals be infected with SARS-COV-2?
There is a possibility for certain animal species to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 through close contact with infected humans. This may have implications for the health of animals, both domestic and wild, and also for the health of humans.
Cats (both companion and wild), mink, and dogs have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the field setting, following contact with humans known or suspected to be infected with the virus. Cats have shown respiratory and gastrointestinal signs.
Golden Syrian hamsters, as well as cynomolgus and rhesus macaques, may also get infected. Dogs may also get the virus, but are less affected than ferrets or cats. Egyptian fruit bats were also infected in the laboratory setting but did not show signs of a disease.
These infections are not a driver of the COVID-19 pandemic; the pandemic is driven by human-to-human transmission.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s November-December 2020 issue.
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