December 01, 2021 One Health

New Information on COVID-19 and Animals: Dogs, Cats and White-Tailed Deer

A white-tailed deer

New Information on COVID-19 and Animals: Dogs, Cats and White-Tailed Deer

A note on the omicron variant: as of the publication of this blog post, there is no information about the effect of the omicron variant on animals. We will provide updated guidance to pet owners when and if necessary.

A note on terminology: COVID-19 is the name of the disease state in humans. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes COVID-19 and the name of the disease state in animals. See our Pandemic Glossary for Pet Families for more definitions.

After some months of relative quiet, the link between COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and animals, both domestic and wild, is in the news again. There are two recently published papers describing SARS-CoV-2 infections in dogs and cats: one in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the other in Veterinary Record, a British journal. There have also been a whole host of news articles linking deer and SARS-CoV-2. I’ll discuss the latest findings and what they mean for pet owners and the general public below.

The Role of SARS-CoV-2 in Canine and Feline Deaths

The Centers for Disease Control and a group of public health veterinarians reported on five dogs and five cats that had confirmed positive tests for SARS-CoV-2 and had passed away to determine what role the virus played in the pets’ death. Several of the pets described in the study were widely reported in the press in the spring and summer of 2020. Using rigorous epidemiologic methodology, the researchers determined the coronavirus infection was not a factor in the death of eight of the pets. In one dog, coronavirus infection contributed to the owner’s decision to euthanize their pet. Only in one cat was SARS-CoV-2 determined to be the cause of death. All ten pets had been exposed to a human with COVID-19, which was almost certainly the source of their infection. I am sure the families of all the pets in the study were devastated at the loss of their favorite fur person, but I take some comfort in knowing the coronavirus did not appear to be a major cause of death in most cases.

Heart disease in dogs and cats linked to SARS-CoV-2

Viral infections are a common cause of heart inflammation in both animals and humans, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to behave similarly. In humans, myocarditis (heart inflammation) has been reported following COVID-19 infection and as a rare side effect to COVID-19 vaccination. While the alpha variant (B.1.1.7) was circulating in England, veterinary cardiologists noted an apparent increase in dogs and cats with clinical signs of myocarditis, including a sudden onset illness with abnormal heart rhythms, fainting and echocardiographic changes. This spike in canine and feline myocarditis patients followed shortly after the spike in human COVID-19 cases. Viral testing identified the alpha variant in three of 11 pet patients studied. Seven of the 11 patients lived with a human diagnosed with COVID-19.

COVID-19 and White-Tailed Deer

Numerous mainstream media outlets have reported the apparent widespread infection of Bambi’s relatives with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Blood samples from white-tailed deer in Michigan, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania showed high levels of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in 40% of blood samples collected from deer in 2020-2021 when compared to samples from 2012-2019. This data suggests the deer have been exposed to the coronavirus. This information raises concerns about deer transmitting the virus within their social groups leading to deer becoming a reservoir for SARS-CoV-2. If deer frequent your backyard, you should avoid close contact with them. Deer hunters have been advised to wear masks when dressing a deer carcass.

How to Protect Animals from SARS-CoV-2 Infection

Whether the animal you are in contact with is a cat, a dog or a deer, the best method of preventing of infection in animals is vaccination of humans. Since pets appear to become infected by exposure to sick family members, if you have COVID-19, quarantine yourself away from all members of the family including pets until you have recovered.

If you want to read more about SARS-CoV-2 and pets, read a prior blog post here and our Pet Health Library article on COVID-19 and pets.

Tags: cats, coronavirus, COVID-19, one health, SARS-CoV-2, white-tailed deer,

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