For the first time in the United States, the transmission of COVID-19 from parent to pet is genetically documented in a study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a subsidiary of City of Hope.
The published results of the current study appear in the journal Health. This is one of five nationwide pilot studies examining COVID in animals. However, the TGen study is the only one to include genomic sequencing of the virus from animal and human samples. This level of testing results from TGen’s overall efforts to monitor the virus and its potentially more dangerous variants by sequencing as many positive human samples of the virus as possible.
TGen’s COVID animal study is being conducted under a grant from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). As with the other pilot studies, funding comes from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in coordination with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE).
In the Arizona case study, the pet owner, cat and dog were all infected with the same strain of coronavirus: B.1.575, an early and commonplace version of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. There are fewer than 25 documented cases of Arizonas infected with this strain, according to information from the COVID variant tracking dashboard that TGen manages for the CDC and ADHS. To date, more than 46,000 positive samples of Arizonans with COVID have been sequenced.
This case study was the first example we had of the project that demonstrated the likelihood of transmission of the virus from an animal owner to animals in the household. “
Hayley Yaglom, TGen epidemiologist and lead author of the study
The researchers deduced that the virus spread from the parent of the animal to the dog, cat, or both. However, the animals were confined to an apartment and, therefore, had little or no opportunity to be exposed to the virus. It was therefore doubtful whether the pets infected their owner. Additionally, in each case examined in the study, the animal’s parent presented COVID first. Globally, there are no documented cases of transmission of COVID from a pet to its parent.
The researchers couldn’t tell if the dog or cat got infected first or if one infected the other, although that was a possibility. This particular dog and cat were friends who had close contact with each other, the researchers said.
Steps Owners Should Take To Protect Pets
Yaglom said pet owners should protect their animals by getting vaccinated. If they contract COVID, they should wear masks when they are around their pets. As difficult as it can be for many pet owners, they should avoid cuddling, kissing, allowing pets to lick their faces, or sleep with them.
Owners don’t have to completely isolate themselves from their pets, Yaglom said, but they should minimize contact “as best they can” while they are showing symptoms of COVID.
In the case study, the animal’s parent was not yet vaccinated, took few precautions to protect their cat and dog, and entertained guests who were not vaccinated. The owner has recovered from COVID and his two pets were asymptomatic.
Including this case study, the Arizona researchers tested 61 pets -; 39 dogs and 22 cats -; living in 24 households. There have been 14 positive cases of COVID in pets among six of the households.
The study will continue until 2021 and will continue until 2022 if the researchers obtain additional funding, which would allow them to continue their education and awareness efforts, thereby strengthening active surveillance of the virus.
More study subjects needed
Owners of dogs and cats who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks are eligible to participate in the study. The tests are free. Owners must be at least 18 years old, give their consent and complete a questionnaire. The animal should be vaccinated against rabies, housed mainly indoors, and tolerant of the handling and restraint necessary for routine veterinary care. A veterinarian is present when the samples are taken. No animal was injured during this study.
Pet owners must wear masks when collecting samples, and project staff will wear masks and gloves. Spanish speaking staff will be available as needed. Pet owners will be notified of test results within 3-4 weeks. For animals that test positive, owners may be asked to authorize the collection of additional samples. Positive tests will be reported to the Arizona State Veterinarian and ADHS.
For more information on COVID testing on pet dogs or cats, or to participate in the study, please send your questions to: [email protected]
The study -; Genomic investigation into a family cluster of SARS-CoV-2 diseases in Arizona involving a cat, dog and pet owner -; was published in the journal Health.
“This is a great example of using genomics to gain insight into pathogens,” said David Engelthaler, Ph.D., director of the Pathogen and Microbiome division of TGen, the branch of TGen that studies the pathogens. Infectious diseases. “This study shows that we can not only use genomics to help track COVID variants around the world, but we can also use this technology to track exact transmissions, and in this case transmission from pet owners to animals.”
The Translational Genomics Research Institute
Yaglom, HD, et al. (2021) Genomic investigation into a familial cluster of SARS-CoV-2 diseases in Arizona involving a cat, dog and pet owner. Health. doi.org/10.1016/j.onehlt.2021.100333.