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Preparedness with Pets by Dr. Susan Skyler

A Little History.

The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that is causing the pandemic Covid-19 is actually just one of many corona viruses globally, the first being found in the 1960’s. These corona viruses are carried in reservoir hosts. There are 4 main sub-groups of corona viruses, and seven of them can cause human disease including influenza (flu) and colds. Corona viruses have probably been in existence for about 10,000 years. Of the seven known corona viruses that infect humans, five of these viruses have bats as their reservoir and two have rodents as their reservoir. There then may be possible intermediate hosts that help transmit the diseases. (1)
Most emerging pathogens (organisms that cause disease by jumping to new species or involve a more significant number of existing hosts often due to environmental crowding) come from countries along the equator, as did Covid-19. This observation brings to the forefront the concept of ONE HEALTH. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an extensive definition. (2) It basically means that WE need to be looking at the interactions between HUMANS, ANIMALS, PLANTS, and their SHARED ENVIRONMENTS.


The most current information is that dogs, multiple species of cats, including tigers, leopards, and lions, ferrets and mink, can catch Covid-19 from humans. Only in laboratory settings can hamsters, fruit bats, and tree shrews become infected as well and transmit the virus to their own species. As of Sept. 2020, “12 dogs and 10 cats in the US have been confirmed with SARS-CoV-2.” (3) Cats may show respiratory symptoms like sneezing, mucous, runny eyes and can transmit Covid-19 to other cats in close contact. The Cornell Feline Health Center is an excellent resource for cat owners. (4)
Unlike cats, dogs do not support viral replication and transmission to other dogs and usually have not presented with respiratory symptoms. Ferrets can become infected but do not seem to transmit the virus, except in a laboratory setting. (5) Cats and dogs have not been shown to transmit Covid-19 to humans. Mink become ill, die, and are the only animal that are known to transmit this virus back to humans in close contact.

UNLIKE CATS, it is recommended that if a human in your household has been infected or exposed to Covid-19, they should maintain separation from household animals as they would with other household members, and avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sleeping in the same location, and sharing food or bedding.   If possible, a household member should be designated to care for pets in the home and should follow standard handwashing practices before and after interacting with the household animal. If a person with Covid-19 must care for pets or other animals, they should ensure they wash their hands before and after caring for them. (6)


If you suspect that your pet (especially cats) has Covid-19, your veterinarian must eliminate all other possible problems or causes before the State Veterinarian (in your State) may then approve testing.

Virus isolation is the most accurate but uncommon test when the actual virus itself is grown.
PCR is a polymerase chain reaction which is done by a machine that multiplies an essential and important piece of the genetic material (RNA) from this virus. This amplification makes it easier to identify. It is the second most accurate test. It does not detect the live virus, only identifiable pieces of the Covid-19 virus. This is an antigen test (a test for the same part of the actual virus).
Rapid tests that are done on-site look for specific protein fragments from the virus. This is also an antigen test.
Antibody tests are blood tests that can only tell if you have been infected in the past. It takes a variable amount of time for antibodies to develop.
Genetic testing occurs when researchers are trying to ascertain that two individuals have the exact same strain as the virus, so the viral RNA is directly compared.
All of these tests vary in sensitivity (ability to detect even small amounts of viral proteins or genetic material) and specificity how often the test results are correctly negative or positive.


The Pet Poison Hotline reports a doubling in calls about possible toxicity starting in March, 2020, regarding cleaning and disinfecting products. The ASPCA (America Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Poison Control Center saw a 65% increase as well regarding household cleaning products.

Most of these were accidental exposures including “pets may drink out of mop buckets, lick their paws after placing them on cleaner-covered countertops, eat food-coated wipes out of trash, or drink from water bowls that were disinfected but not rinsed. “…some calls were about pets exposed to alcohol-based hand sanitizers, occasionally used directly on pets.” Also occurring were calls about “alcohol, marijuana, paint and bread dough and yeast…symptoms included stomach upset to severe corrosive injury to a pet’s mouth, esophagus and stomach.” (7) ◙

About Dr. Skyler

Dr. Susan Skyler is currently retired after 37 years of working as a veterinarian in a busy small animal practice in Austin, Texas. However, retired is a relative term, as she still does relief work as needed and for the past six years has been the primary volunteer veterinarian for Austin Wildlife Rescue, a non-profit that takes in about 8,000 native Texas animals yearly.
Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a father who would pick up black widow spiders barehanded to show them the hourglass on their abdomen, raising tadpoles to frogs, pet dogs and cats, showing quarter-horses and blue jean pockets with the occasional snake for her mother the stage was set for a future with animals.
After receiving a BS in Biology from the University of New Mexico, a MA in Biochemical Endocrinology from the University of Texas at Austin and finally a DVM from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine she continues to live in Austin, Texas.
While in small animal practice and volunteering at Austin Wildlife Rescue one of her major goals was to empower the staff and pet owners with the knowledge and insight to understand and meet the needs of the animals and when they needed to reach out for help. The transition to wildlife medicine was a jump into the great unknown to gather the knowledge needed for the handling and care of many different species. There was the occasional turtle bite, owl or hawk talon through the glove or elsewhere, skunk spray, and porcupine quills.

In addition to veterinary medicine, Dr. Skyler enjoys road bicycling with friends including bicycle trips to Europe, Canada and many states across the United States. She enjoys reading and has treasured being with the same book group for over 25 years. She has been fortunate to share 21 years with a gentle and loving partner and for many years she cared for her beautiful son who was severely disabled and who deeply enriched her life. He taught her many lessons including how to be a more understanding and caring veterinarian.


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