Earlier this month, members of the Texas A&M COVID-19 and Pets research team identified the first cases of the more-contagious UK variant of COVID-19 in animals: a dog and a cat from the same household in Brazos County, Texas.
Throughout the pandemic, the team has been testing dogs and cats in Brazos County for COVID-19 in order to better understand the relationship between the coronavirus, animals, and humans.
“So far, most of our evidence is of pet becoming infected from humans in the household,” said Sarah Hamer, an epidemiologist and veterinarian at Texas A&M, as well as the team leader. “But we’re really interested to know if there’s transmission…from one animal to another or potentially from an animal to a human.”
Knowing more about how viruses like the coronavirus affect animals can help humans from contracting them. Hamer said that epidemiologists already use animals as “sentinels” for other diseases. They can give early warning signs before an outbreak occurs among humans. Collecting data from animals could help researchers do the same for COVID-19.
“For many different diseases that can infect both animals and humans, there’s established networks where we can use…signals in the environment to learn more about risk areas for humans,” Hamer said.
Hamer’s team has tested over 450 animals since June – about 60 of those have tested positive for COVID-19. Signs of the disease are rare – occasionally animals will cough, sneeze or have diarrhea – with the most common symptom being that they act “just…a little bit lazier than usual,” according to Hamer.