The coronavirus has never been a problem limited to people. Since the pandemic’s start, the virus’s potential to impact pets, livestock and wildlife has been a global concern.
But will the four-legged friends we share our homes with need vaccines? It’s unlikely in the short term, said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation attending veterinarian Jennie Criley, D.V.M.
“Although there are a few reports of dogs and cats testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, they typically show no or very mild symptoms,” said Criley, who is also the director of comparative medicine at OMRF. “Currently, there is no evidence that dogs and cats play a significant role in transmitting the virus to humans or other animals.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, livestock like horses, pigs and poultry don’t appear to be naturally susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. While results of studies of the virus in cattle are conflicting, the AVMA notes it doesn’t appear they can be easily infected either.
But there is one notable exception, said Criley: Mink. Millions of the small, weasel-like mammals are bred on farms worldwide, and they can be infected by and potentially transmit the coronavirus to humans.
“The concern is that the virus could thrive in animals, mutate, and then pass back to humans,” said OMRF physician-scientist Hal Scofield, M.D. “Given that the probable origin of Covid-19 was an animal — likely a bat — it’s important that this be monitored.”
In response, numerous vaccines for mink are in development. If the U.S. Department of Agriculture and health experts determine a companion animal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is necessary, a vaccine developed for mink could eventually be adapted and approved for household pets.
Criley added that if research shows a Covid-19 vaccine for our pets is needed to protect animal and human health, it wouldn’t be the first time.
“Rabies is a classic example of a vaccination given to our pets that keeps them safe and that saves human lives,” said Criley. But, she added, it’s best not to worry. Current work is all preliminary when it comes to man’s best friends.
“Keep your pet up to date with all preventative health care recommended by your veterinarian,” said Criley. “And remember, pets have become used to people being home more while we have been working remotely. Be sure to give them some extra TLC if you are transitioning back to working outside of the home office.”