We have heard conflicting reports about the potential spread of COVID-19 to and from people and animals, and between animals. Many government and industry officials have stated that there is no evidence that dogs and cats can transmit the virus to humans. Yet, as discussed by veterinary pathologists in a recent paper, the “absence of evidence [of zoonotic, reverse zoonotic, or inter/intra species COVID transmission] is not the same thing as evidence of absence.” See “A Critical Needs Assessment for Research in Companion Animals and Livestock Following the Pandemic of COVID-19 in Humans.”

As stated in the abstract,

this article presents in chronological order data that both individually (as received independently from multiple countries) and collectively urge studies that elucidate the following questions.

  1. What animal species can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the likely sources of infection, the period of infectivity, and transmissibility between these animals and to other animal species and humans?

  2. What are the best diagnostic tests currently available for companion animals and livestock?

  3. What expressions of illness in companion and other animal species can serve as disease markers?

The article discusses the “critical need for pathogenesis, pathology and diagnostic research in companion animals,” particularly domestic pet and feral cats and working dogs. In light of the increasing number cases diagnosed in cats who exhibited clinical signs of disease in addition to testing positive, it is critical to prevent mass abandonment of pets, as reported in China, after officials announced the potential of disease spread.

In light of the above, it was disconcerting to see the letter to USDA from the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) in support of a petition filed by PETA to ban the practice of “cub petting” – think Tiger King—in USDA licensed exhibitor facilities. See AZA and AAZV Letter to USDA on Emergency “Cub Petting” Petition.

The letter states that both associations,

would like to express our collective support for the recent petition from PETA to USDA seeking an emergency ban on the practice of ‘cub petting’ at USDA-licensed facilities due to transmissions concerns of COVID-19 to big cats.

While protecting exotic cats from exposure to COVID-19 is important, when an association as prestigious as AAZV warns against human-animal contact because of disease transmission concerns, this could create panic to pet cat owners, animal shelter staff and those managing feral cat populations.

Until there are robust, peer-reviewed studies of COVID-19 transmission to and through animal populations, we should avoid statements that could result in mass euthanasia or abandonment of pets perpetuated by fear.

For more comprehensive information about coronavirus in animals see a factsheet titled “SCIENCE-BASED FACTS & KNOWLEDGE ABOUT WILD ANIMALS, ZOOS AND SARS-COV-2 VIRUS” published by the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians providing facts “collected from reliable sources such as OIE, European National references laboratories, WHO, and pre COVID-19 scientific literature about coronavirus.”