COVID-19 vaccine for Fido and Fluffy? Some researchers say yes


AVON LAKE, Ohio (WJW) — As more people become inoculated against COVID-19, a group of researchers says cats and dogs may need to be vaccinated as well.

In an editorial published in the medical journal Virulence, those scientists warn about “significant long-term risk to public health” due to viral evolution.

“I think the questions are how common are the infections in animals, especially dogs and cats, but also farmed and domesticated animals?” said Dr. Linda Saif, distinguished university professor at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine of the question researchers are asking.

Saif, who also works with the Food Animal Health Research Program at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, told us the animal scientists are most concerned about are minks, in light of outbreaks at mink farms around the world.

Saif, who also works with the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine told us the animal scientists are most concerned about are minks, in light of outbreaks at mink farms around the world.

In Denmark, where 17 million minks were culled, they saw viral evolution and transmission of COVID-19 from mink back to human. Mink have also had serious symptoms from the virus.

“All the other animals that have been surveyed, none of them get this severe disease,” said Saif.

COVID-19 has been known to infect dogs and cats but right now there is no evidence it can spread from those pets to humans, the CDC categorizing the risk as low.

“I’ve been in contact with Idexx Laboratories, they’re running tests, looking to see if we can document COVID-19 in our pets and we’re just not finding very many cases that would be supportive of a high level of concern,” said Dr. Frank Krupka of Avon Lake Animal Clinic.

Saif says it is important for pet owners and animal caregivers to get the vaccine to try and reduce the amount of shedding of the virus.

In the meantime, Krupka says veterinarians and staff at Avon Animal Clinic are following CDC guidelines to reduce and transmission. 

“Over precaution is never a bad thing. You know here at the Avon Lake Animal Clinic, we’re wearing masks and we’re sanitizing, doing our part to make sure we’re not spreading disease,” Krupka said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says people shouldn’t panic or consider abandoning their pets.

Krupka agrees. “I don’t want people living in fear of living with their family members, their pets. They’re part of our families, no one should be getting rid of their animals over this.”

Experts we spoke with say more surveillance of these domesticated animals is needed before possibly developing a vaccine. As a precaution — the CDC recommends keeping pets away from people who are sick as well as people and pets outside of their immediate household.

The AVMA released a statement on this issue. It reads in full:

While it has been hypothesized that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) may have originally been transmitted to people via an animal host, COVID-19 remains primarily a human disease, with primary means of spread being people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet).

At this time, there are no COVID-19 vaccines licensed for use in animals in the United States, nor is there any indication that animals playing any significant role in the spread of COVID-19 to people, and human vaccination remains the number one priority.

We are aware that data has been submitted to the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics as part of an application for a vaccine in mink; however, the USDA CVB has also stated that “Currently, CVB is not accepting license applications for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines for use in dogs or cats because data do not indicate such a vaccine would have value.”

Because we know that dogs and cats can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends those ill with COVID-19 restrict contact with their pets, just as they would restrict contact with other people. We don’t currently have evidence that either dogs or cats transmit the virus back to people.

Pet owners shouldn’t panic or consider abandoning their pets during the pandemic. Instead, people should wear a mask, practice social distancing, use good hygiene, and social distance their pets from people who are ill or not part of their immediate circle and other animals that are unfamiliar. These are simple steps you can take to protect you and your pets.

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