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Can the Corona Virus of Dogs and Cats Spread to People?


Q: “With all the concerns regarding the corona virus, I know that dogs and cats can get the corona virus. Can people get sick from these corona viruses from our pets?” J.S., Kansas City, MO.


A: That’s a great question, let’s begin here. A vaccine is available to prevent canine coronavirus infection in the first place. This vaccine may be included in combination vaccines that also protects dogs from the typically more serious canine distemper virus (CDV), canine parvovirus (CPV-2), and canine adenovirus type 2 (CAV-2). In cats, the corona virus itself is so benign that typically people see no symptoms, and if they do, typically it’s minor gastro-intestinal upset which goes away in a day or so without treatment.


One of the world’s experts on this topic is Dr. Niels Pedersen, legendary professor emeritus University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He says, “The simple answer is that feline and canine coronaviruses do not infect humans and vice versa.  Humans have their own genetically distinct types of coronaviruses. However, cross species transfer does occur, but only after significant mutation and over many years, centuries and millennia. Therefore, it is possible that a coronavirus originating in a cat or dog could mutate and enter humans and cause disease in the future.  if it does, it will become a human virus and no longer a cat or dog virus.


“The more complex answer goes like this: Coronaviruses have adapted themselves by  mutation over a period of 50,000 years or more to virtually every species of animal, including humans. They only cause disease in their new species and tend to remain in that species in whatever genetic form that allowed adapt to their new hosts. The various coronaviruses have been sequenced and their relationship to each other determined.  The common cold-causing coronaviruses of humans (OC43, 229E and NL63) are in the alphacoronavirus group, along with the coronavirus of cats (and dogs).


“The more recently humanized strains of coronavirus, MERS, SARS and Wuhan, have jumped over from the Betacoronaviruses of bats, possibly by intermediate infection of other animals such as camels and civet cats. There is absolutely no evidence that viruses with strong genetic relationship to the coronaviruses of cats and dogs transmit back and forth between animal and human.  However, the tendency for coronaviruses to jump species is an ongoing and future problem and a dog or cat coronavirus may enter humans and cause disease sometime in the future, but if it does, it will no longer be a cat or dog virus, but rather a new human virus. “


Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control says about the corona virus.

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