Canine coronavirus (CcoV) is spread globally and particularly affects dogs kept in kennels and puppies. If we compare human coronavirus to that affecting dogs, it causes respiratory problems in the former, whilst the latter predominantly leads to gastrointestinal complaints. Although coronavirus infections in dogs are usually mild, they can be severe with heavy diarrhoea and even lead to death in animals with weak immune systems.
Coronavirus in dogs
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Is Covid-19 dangerous for my dog?
With humans, Covid-19 is triggered by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which originated in China. As the federal research institute for animal health, the Friedrich Löffler Institute (FLI) monitors the current disease situation and publishes the latest scientific findings. So far researchers have assumed that coronavirus is transmitted by bats, pangolins or snakes. Recently cases were announced in which the viruses were also detected in the nose and mouth of two healthy dogs in Hong Kong. However, experts assume that coronavirus reached the dog from close physical contact with an infected dog owner. According to the latest findings by the researchers, an actual infection of the dog now being examined in quarantine is more likely to be ruled out. If you yourself are in quarantine, it's recommend to ask someone close to you to help take care of pets by taking them out for walks. However, there are not yet any mandatory quarantine measures for dogs of sick people.
Although a cat was diagnosed with Covid-19, showing symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and respiratory issues after being infected by its owner, experts insist that this was a rare case. The cat has recovered after 9 days, but is still being observed by vets.
There is no evidence according to the Friedrich Löffler Institute that dogs can fall sick from Covid-19, but other coronaviruses can play a big role in the health of dogs:
Transmission, characteristics and disease patterns of canine coronavirus
Coronavirus affects numerous mammals, meaning that cats (FEVC and FIPV), pigs, cows or us humans can suffer from coronavirus as well as dogs. However, not all infections in dogs lead to signs of illness. Accordingly, adult dogs with a strong immune system often show no symptoms, although they can infect dogs with weak immune systems (e.g. puppies) through direct and indirect contact.
Particles of canine coronavirus (CCoV) are absorbed through the mouth or nose and then pass through the oesophagus to the gastrointestinal tract. Possible causes of infection can be faecally contaminated drinking water, contaminated objects (e.g. dog toys) and direct contact with infectious dog faeces. Virus particles multiply in the mucous membrane of the stomach and big and small intestine and can partly lead to major damage through inflammations. The consequence is decreased intake of water and nutrients from food, which can be life-threatening particularly for puppies with low energy reserves. It can take up to two weeks for newly formed virus particles to be excreted in the faeces once symptoms come to the fore, which is why effective hygiene measures should be taken at this time in particular.
Coronavirus in dogs: what symptoms emerge?
Dogs react differently to canine coronavirus infections depending on the state of their immune system. Hence, puppies or otherwise affected dogs (e.g. with parvovirus) can suffer more than adult dogs with a strong immune system. As a result, the following gastrointestinal complaints can affect dogs suffering from coronavirus:
- General symptoms like tiredness, debility and loss of appetite, possibly fever
- Often watery diarrhoea with partly blood or slimy additions as well as vomiting
- Heavy water loss (dehydration) as well as fluctuations in the electrolyte balance can trigger circulation difficulties and cardiac arrhythmia
- Immunocompromised dogs can die due to infection
Unfortunately a new illness cannot be ruled out if a dog has already suffered from canine coronavirus.
How is coronavirus diagnosed in dogs?
Gastrointestinal complaints in dogs can be triggered by many illnesses. Hence, the general state of health (examining mouth mucosa, water level, cardiac and respiratory frequency and internal body temperature), vaccination status, housing and feeding habits and deworming prophylaxis should be checked by a vet during the anamnesis and general clinical examination.
If an dog's circulation is so severely impinged by loss of water and electrolytes that continued treatment is intolerable, the circulation must first be stabilised with fluid or electrolyte treatment. Only afterwards can a canine coronavirus infection be confirmed by a blood or faeces examination:
- The gold standard is direct virus detection via an electron microscope or RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction).
- Indirect virus detection is carried out in rare cases, which involves measuring the concentration of antibodies formed by the body (protective proteins formed by the immune system).
Along with theses tests, it is also recommended to carry out a parasitological examination of the faeces.
What are the treatment options?
Diarrhoea shouldn't be underestimated with puppies in particular, as this can soon become a life-threatening situation due to their low energy reserves. The focus of treatment should therefore be on supportive measures that minimise diarrhoea and stabilise the dog's circulation:
- Fluid and electrolyte treatment with intravenous infusion or a bolus under the skin.
- Food deprivation (no longer than two days)
- Avoiding secondary bacterial infections: antibiotics
- Tackling viral infections with antivirals
- Dogs can be warmed up with heated cushions or under heated blankets if their temperature is too low (prevent overheating)
- Following treatment, a bland diet should be administered for several days. Suitable options are, for instance, boiled rice (unscented) with cooked chicken
- Avoiding stress
What is the prognosis?
The prognosis of canine coronavirus depends greatly on the immune status. Hence, puppies or dogs that have already suffered from parvovirus or distemper have a worse chance of recovery than dogs with a strong immune system. As a result, an early diagnosis and effective treatment are important in order to keep the loss of water and electrolytes as low as possible.
How can a coronavirus infection be prevented in dogs?
It's possible to protect dogs from canine coronavirus (CCoV) infection with a vaccination. However, this is currently not permitted for dogs in Germany, since the efficacy of the vaccine is disputed amongst experts. Nevertheless, dogs should be vaccinated against infectious diseases like parvovirus, distemper and leptospirosis according to the vaccination recommendations of the Standing Vaccination Committee of Veterinary Medicine (StIKo Vet) or the Friedrich Löffler Institute. The aim of such vaccinations is partly targeted prophylaxis of the relevant pathogen and on the other hand avoiding subsequent immunosuppression. Hence, vaccinated dogs are indirectly protected from severe progression of the canine coronavirus.
In addition, the following hygiene measures are recommended to avoid infectious diseases:
- Cleaning and if necessary disinfecting areas where dogs eat and defecate, as well as dog toys and surfaces with a virus-specific disinfectant
- Regularly changing drinking water
- Infected dogs should be kept in quarantine for at least two weeks
- Collection and sealed disposal of faeces
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