COVID-19 and dogs: latest advice for owners and vets

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A pomeranian tested positive for COVID-19

Following news that a dog in Hong Kong has tested ‘weakly positive’ for COVID-19 (Coronavirus), The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has updated its Advisory.

The update reads, “Reports from Hong Kong on February 28 indicated that the pet dog of an infected patient had tested ‘weakly positive’ to COVID-19 after routine testing.

“On March 5, the Hong Kong SAR Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported that nasal, oral, rectal and faecal samples from the dog have been tested. On February 26 and 28, oral and nasal swabs were positive, while on March 2, only nasal swabs showed positive results. The rectal and faecal samples tested negative on all three occasions.

“Testing at both the government veterinary laboratory (AFCD) and the WHO accredited diagnostic human CoV laboratory at Hong Kong University (HKU) detected a low viral load in the nasal and oral swabs.

There is still no evidence at this time that mammalian pet animals, including dogs and cats, could be a source of infection to other animals or humans.

“Both laboratories used the real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method and the results indicate that there was a small quantity of COVID-19 viral RNA in the samples. It does not, however, indicate whether the samples contain intact virus particles which are infectious, or just fragments of the RNA, which are not contagious.

“The dog, which is showing no relevant clinical signs, was removed from the household, which was the possible source of contamination on 26 February. Re-testing was performed after the dog was put under quarantine to determine whether the dog was in fact infected or whether its mouth and nose were being contaminated with COVID-19 virus from the household.

“The AFCD’s document states that there is still no evidence at this time that mammalian pet animals, including dogs and cats, could be a source of infection to other animals or humans.

While there is a strain of the disease called canine Coronavirus (CCV), it is not transmissible to humans – and is not the strain affecting much of the world.

“WSAVA urges pet owners in areas where there are known human cases of COVID-19 to continue to follow the information in its Advisory, including washing their hands when interacting with their pets and, if sick, wearing face masks around them.”

While there is a strain of the disease called canine Coronavirus (CCV), which does spread from dog to dog, it is not transmissible to humans – and is not the strain currently affecting much of the world.

As of today (Tuesday 10 March), 115 countries are affected by COVID-19, with 114,641 registered cases across the world, 64,277 recoveries, and 4,031 deaths – five of which in the UK. While the spread seems to be halting in China, where the virus originated, infection rates have picked up elsewhere – most notably in Italy, the worst-hit country after China with 9,172 registered cases and 463 fatalities so far.

Strada, Pantheon, Roma, Italia, Architettura, Facciata

In the evening of Monday 9 March, the whole of Italy was place in lockdown; The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to Italy.

On 5 March, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) wrote to all the veterinary surgeons and nurses registered with the College to offer general advice and reassurance.

The letter, set out below, includes “broad guidance on the ongoing provision of veterinary services in challenging circumstances; a clear acknowledgment that veterinary professionals may need to depart from our usual best practice advice and guidance in order to safeguard personal and team safety and public health; and reassurance about how our normal expectations around clinical decision-making would take the context of these exceptional circumstances into account.”

Dear Colleague,

Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice and reassurance for vet professionals

We have recently received a number of queries relating to effective contingency planning in response to the coronavirus outbreak and how certain challenges arising from it may be managed in line with your professional obligations set out in the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct and its supporting guidance.

As the regulator for veterinary surgeons and registered veterinary nurses in the UK, our priority is the health and safety of those we regulate. We hope that this information will empower you to make decisions that will enable you to protect yourselves whilst continuing to provide the best care you can to your patients at this extremely challenging time.

In the first instance, it is important that you and the public are aware of and follow current advice and guidance from the UK Government and devolved administrations, as follows:

England
Scotland
Wales
Northern Ireland

We understand that animal health and welfare will always be your first concern when attending to animals. However, we appreciate that you will also have concerns about the clinical and professional decisions you need to make in these difficult and changeable circumstances. To this end, we encourage you to work together to co-ordinate the care of animals and the delivery of services, and to use your clinical and professional judgement when assessing risk and making decisions, informed by the Code and guidance.

Our guidance is designed to be workable and applicable to wide-ranging scenarios, and is there to support you to effectively risk-assess and make clinical and professional judgements relevant to the context before you. However, we acknowledge that in these exceptional circumstances, you may need to depart from the best practice advice set out in the guidance, in order to safeguard yourself and your colleagues, as well as public health.

We understand that you may feel anxious about how your decision-making in such circumstances might be viewed if a concern is raised with us about you. We always consider concerns on the specific facts, taking into account the context in which any decisions were made together with any other relevant factors. We also consider any additional advice outside of the Code and guidance, such as this letter, in place at the time.

We therefore wish to reassure you that if you act reasonably in the light of all available information and evidence, and are able to justify the decisions you have made, it is hard to see circumstances where we would find you had acted in any way that would be a major cause for concern. To this end, we would advise you to include a detailed note of the decisions you make, and the reasons for them, within your clinical notes.

We will keep this guidance under review and will amend it as necessary as the situation develops.

In addition, over the coming days, we will be publishing some Frequently Asked Questions on our website with advice on more specific situations (www.rcvs.org.uk/coronavirus), which we will also review on an ongoing basis.

In the meantime, you can contact our advice team on advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789.

Yours faithfully

Niall Connell MRCVS
President

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