COVID-19 may cause heart inflammation in cats and dogs

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Can cats and dogs get the Alpha variant of SARS-CoV-2? Westend61 / Getty Images
  • Researchers conducted a study to determine if there is a link between a spike in heart inflammation in cats and dogs and SARS-CoV-2.
  • They found that the majority of the pets studied contracted SARS-CoV-2 shortly after their owners were confirmed or suspected to have the virus.
  • The researchers conclude that pets can contract the B.1.1.7, or Alpha, variant of the virus. However, scientists will need to do more research to confirm how exactly this affects pets.

Many case reports have emerged worldwide on pets, especially cats and dogs, contracting SARS-CoV-2 from their owners.

Symptoms were mostly mild and included mild digestive and respiratory problems, such as coughing, runny nose, and sneezing.

Despite the sharp increases in SARS-CoV-2 cases in the UK since November 2020, so far there have been no report animals that contract the virus.

Monitoring the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to animals is vital for animal safety and to prevent the formation of viral reservoirs that could perpetuate the pandemic.

Recently, British and French researchers recorded several cases of cats and dogs that appeared to have contracted SARS-CoV-2 from their owners and developed symptoms of myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle.

“Our study reports the first cases of cats and dogs affected by the COVID-19 Alpha variant and highlights, more than ever, the risk that pets could [contract] SARS-CoV-2, ”says Dr Luca Ferasin, DVM, Ph.D., lead study author and head of cardiology at the Ralph Veterinary Referral Center (TRVRC) in the UK

“We have also reported the atypical clinical manifestations characterized by severe cardiac abnormalities, which is a well-known complication in people affected by COVID-19 but which has never been [been] described in pets before. However, COVID-19 […] in pets remains a relatively rare disease and, based on our observations, it appears that transmission occurs from humans to pets, rather than the other way around, ”he adds.

The study appears in the journal VetRecord.

Between December 2020 and February 2021, TRVRC vets noticed an increase in the number of cats and dogs with signs of acute myocarditis admitted to their clinic.

Myocarditis accounted for 12.8% of their cases in cardiology, compared to about 1.5% the previous year.

In total, they diagnosed 26 cats and dogs with the disease between December 2020 and March 2021.

This, they observed, coincided with the peak of SARS-CoV-2 cases in the UK, making them suspect a possible link. To investigate, they asked the owners of these animals if they had shown symptoms of COVID-19 in the previous weeks or if they had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 at any stage.

The researchers found that the majority of owners of these animals contracted SARS-CoV-2 3 to 6 weeks before their pet’s illness. Vets decided to test cats and dogs for the presence of the virus using molecular tests (PCR) and antibodies in their blood.

To do this, they collected blood, oronasopharyngeal and rectal swabs from six cats and a dog with a diagnosis of suspected myocarditis following direct contact with people in their household with SARS-CoV. -2 confirmed or suspected. They also collected blood samples from two cats and two dogs during their recovery phase.

They sent the samples to the MIVEGEC laboratory at the University of Montpellier in France for molecular testing (PCR) and antibody testing.

After the diagnosis, vets noted that none of the 11 animals in the study with myocarditis developed flu-like symptoms and all of them improved clinically within days of intensive care treatment. Further diagnostic tests did not reveal any other viral, bacterial, or other causes of their myocarditis.

In total, two cats and a dog tested positive on PCR tests, and two cats and a dog had developed antibodies against COVID-19.

Vets also noted that all of these pets tested positive for the Alpha variant of the virus, which was responsible for the sudden increase in SARS-CoV-2 cases in the UK between December 2020 and March 2021.

The results match those of a recent case report in France which establishes evidence for an association between transmission of the Alpha variant to pets and the development of myocarditis.

“We believe that these dogs and cats [contracted SARS-CoV-2] of their owners because they developed clinical signs a few weeks after their owners showed symptoms of COVID-19 or tested positive for the presence of the virus, ”said Dr Ferasin Medical News Today.

“These pets all presented to our emergency department with sudden weakness, loss of appetite, fainting from underlying cardiac arrhythmias, and difficulty breathing due to the presence of fluid in their secondary lungs. to their heart disease – congestive heart failure. “

MNT also spoke with Professor Margaret Hosie, professor of comparative virology at the University of Glasgow in the UK, who was not involved in the study. She said:

“When SARS-CoV-2 infects a person, it binds to the ACE-2 receptor to enter cells and initiate infection. Thus, in species in which the ACE-2 molecule is similar to the molecule in humans, it is possible that the virus is also [transmissible to] this species.

“This is the case for cats and dogs, because their ACE-2 receptor molecule has high sequence homology with its human counterpart,” she explained.

“Because ACE-2 is widespread in the body, SARS-CoV-2 infects many organs, such as the heart and lungs. In humans, and since the distribution of receptors in animals is similar, we can expect to see similar clinical signs in infected animals. However, to date, the clinical signs shown by cats have tended to be mild respiratory signs, and the animals have recovered without incident. Dogs seem to be less susceptible to infections and rarely show clinical signs, ”she continued.

Professor Nicola Decaro of the department of veterinary medicine at the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy, who was not involved in the study, said MNT,

“Like other animals, cats and, to a lesser extent, dogs are susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2, especially if they live in a highly contaminated environment, as are COVID-positive households.” 19. “

“In a study carried out in northern Italy during the first wave of the pandemic, we detected SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in 3.3% and 5.8% of dogs and cats tested, respectively, with a higher seroprevalence in animals from COVID-19 positive households. In other studies, dogs and cats positive for SARS-CoV-2 shed a virus that was genetically identical to their owner’s[s]Added Professor Decaro.

“Therefore, contact between human patients [who have contracted SARS-CoV-2] and their pets is associated with viral transmission to dogs and cats. The observation of clinical signs in cats and in particular in dogs is not frequent, most of the reports explaining the occurrence of a slight respiratory disorder and sometimes [gastrointestinal] sickness.”

“However, it is presumed that the same pathogenic mechanisms responsible for the onset of myocarditis in COVID-19 positive humans are also involved in the onset of myocardial disease in companion animals, even with low frequency. “, he continued.

The researchers conclude that pets can contract the B.1.1.7, or Alpha, variant of the virus. However, more research is needed to determine how exactly this affects pets.

“We have noticed a rapid decline in myocarditis cases since April of this year, and we are now back to the historic incidence of myocarditis – around 1 to 1.5% of all our cardiac cases,” said Dr. Ferasin. “We don’t know if the relatively new Delta variant can infect dogs and cats and cause similar heart problems, so we will remain vigilant in this regard.”

The researchers note some limitations to their results. For example, diagnoses of myocarditis could not be confirmed due to the risks associated with an invasive procedure. They also point out that since they did not have a control group, it is not possible to say whether there is a direct link between COVID-19 and the disease.

In addition, the study involved a very small number of animals.

For people who have COVID-19 or who think they might have it, Dr Ferasin recommends “washing their hands thoroughly before and after touching their pets and wearing a mask whenever they are. near their dog or cat. Likewise, if an animal exhibits clinical signs that could potentially be associated with COVID-19, our advice is to contact their senior veterinarian for advice. “

“The owners [who may have contracted SARS-CoV-2] should avoid contact with their animals, just as they should avoid contact with other people, ”said Professor Hosie.

“If no one else can care for their pet, owners should wear a mask when preparing their pet’s food to avoid [passing on the virus to it]. No cat from one COVID-19 home should be taken to another home, ”she continued.

“There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from pets to humans, although it is difficult to gather such evidence and rule out the possibility of [transmission] from other sources, ”noted Professor Hosie.

“It is important that we continue to investigate SARS-CoV-2 [cases] in animals, because we do not know how often the virus can be transmitted between animals or if the disease may be more severe in certain groups of animals. Currently, all efforts are focused on controlling infections in humans, but, in the longer term, other animal species could constitute a viral reservoir and therefore could perpetuate [transmission] in humans if they are not identified as potential sources of SARS-CoV-2, ”she added.

“We need to develop systems to improve information sharing between public health and veterinary services in order to better investigate situations where a person who [has contracted] SARS-CoV-2 indicates having been in contact with a pet or other animals, ”concluded Professor Hosie.

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