Scientists believe the COVID-19 pandemic began with an animal-to-human transmission, making it no surprise that our pets are also susceptible to contracting the virus.
Researchers from Texas A&M’s veterinary epidemiologist lab are looking into the potential consequences we and our pets may face.
The group has tested over 600 animals living in households that have contracted the COVID virus. Only a quarter tested positive for the virus, with only a fraction of infected pets experiencing symptoms. Sneezing, runny noses, diarrhea, eye irritation, and lethargy are the most common symptoms among pets.
“It was all very mild illness, and it all sort of resolved without veterinary interventions,” Hamer said, speaking on behalf of her team. “From our study, we have no evidence that the virus is killing pets.”
While COVID poses little danger to pets, researchers are concerned about the potential complications of transmitting the virus between species. Viruses are more likely to mutate during these events, creating more variants.
“It’s important to look at both people and animals, tracking mutations and the possible formation of variants, so we can keep a close eye on what might be happening,” said Barton Behravish, a member of the CDC’s zoonotic disease team. “We don’t want to see a strain emerge that becomes more serious in terms of illness in people or animals. We don’t want a strain to emerge that can’t be detected by the diagnostic tests that we have available, or that might impact the therapeutics that are becoming available, or impact the vaccine.”
Interest in the study seems to be dying down alongside concerns about the newer Omicron variant, and volunteers for the study are dwindling. Hamer now intends to look at wildlife like white-tailed deer, which have viral receptors similar to humans. A prior study by her team showed that 34 of 36 deer in one Texas facility had COVID-19 antibodies, supporting the idea of animal-to-animal transmission among wildlife.