If you’ve shared your home with a dog over the past fifty years, chances are you’ve had your pooch vaccinated against “distemper.” Vaccination rates have been so good in the U.S. that I’ve only diagnosed a single case in 23 years of clinical practice. While canine distemper virus (CDV) may be extremely rare in our country, the virus is devastating to wild carnivores, especially tigers and lions, all over the world. Even worse, the virus is popping up in zoos and wildlife preserves threatening species already nearing extinction. What’s going on and how can we protect these precious wild species?
The French veterinarian Henri Carré first documented canine distemper in 19051. A vaccine against CDV was developed in 1923 and became commercially available in 1950. Old-timers like myself remember when canine distemper was referred to as “hard pad disease” due to the unmistakable overgrowth of skin on an infected dog’s feet or nose. While the name “Canine distemper” has persisted, we now know that other species may contract the virus. Ferrets, minks, skunks, badgers, otters, raccoons, red pandas, bears, Asian elephants, hyenas, seals, walruses, sea lions and large Felidae can contract and spread CDV2. Interestingly, while large cats such as tigers and lions are susceptible to CDV, domestic cats are immune. Because CDV can affect so many animals, many veterinary scientists are recommending we stop calling it “canine” distemper altogether.
So why are we suddenly seeing cases in these other animal species?
The spread of canine distemper virus
Most experts blame the spread of distemper to large carnivores largely on domestic dogs. In perhaps the largest documented outbreak to date, over 1,000 lions died in the Serengeti National Park in 1993-1994, nearly one-third of the park’s entire lion population3. Programs to increase CDV vaccination for dogs in an attempt to protect wild carnivores have been undertaken, with varying success. Unfortunately, the transmission of CDV is complex and there are probably animals other than domestic dogs now harboring and spreading CDV. In zoos, CDV can be inadvertently introduced by a wide variety of animal species that aren’t commonly associated with a “canine” disease. A new badger, otter, bear or elephant could silently spread a deadly disease to an unprotected big cat. In China, the highly prized, and protected, giant panda has experienced a CDV outbreak in a rescue center that has killed at least four pandas to date, according to theguardian.com.
What can be done to prevent canine distemper virus from threatening endangered species?
The first-ever "Vaccines for Conservation" international meeting was recently held at the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Bronx Zoo in New York City to determine how to protect wildlife from CDV. In addition to the WCS, scientists from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Glasgow's Institute of Biodiversity were in attendance.
They concluded that five basic steps need to be taken to protect wild carnivores from CDV and other infectious diseases:
- Promote safe off-label use of existing vaccines – determine the safety and efficacy of existing distemper vaccines that could be given to endangered wild carnivores when handled
- Innovate rapid field-testing diagnostics – easy-to-use sample techniques and kits for use whenever at-risk species are handled
- Improve disease surveillance in the wild – Better real-time tracking of both domestic and wild animals for CDV and other infectious diseases
- Build networks that share animal health data – Encourage experts to share disease outbreak information and test results across countries and continents
- Investigate new vaccine technologies – Better vaccines that can be administered orally, by aerosol, or by dart in addition to traditional injection
If you’re interested in this issue, I encourage you to visit the Wildlife Conservation Society’s website at wcs.org.
- Bresalier, Michael, and Michael Worboys. "‘Saving the Lives of Our Dogs’: The Development of Canine Distemper Vaccine in Interwar Britain." NCBI. Cambridge University Press, 5 July 2013. Web. 24 June 2015.
- "How Canine Distemper Virus Jumps Across Species." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, Web.
- "Lion." International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Animals should not pose coronavirus threat to pet owners, farmers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Farmers and pet owners who may be concerned that they can contract COVID-19 from domestic animals — such as livestock, dogs and cats — have little to worry about, according to a virologist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
Public concerns arose after the Bronx Zoo announced last week that a tiger had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But Suresh Kuchipudi, clinical professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, pointed out that the tiger is thought to have been infected by an asymptomatic zoo employee who since has tested positive for COVID-19.
"There is no evidence to date that animals, especially pets and other domesticated animals, are a source of the novel coronavirus," said Kuchipudi, who also is associate director of Penn State's Animal Diagnostic Laboratory.
There have been limited reports of the novel coronavirus — known as SARS-CoV-2 — infecting dogs in Asia, but the Bronx Zoo tiger is the only such positive test result reported to date by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratory, he noted.
"The few reports of animals testing positive are believed to be cases where the animals got the virus from close contact with infected humans, and so far there is no evidence to believe that animals can transmit it back to people," he said.
This, despite the fact that the COVID-19 virus is thought to have originated in bats and to have evolved to infect and spread among humans, Kuchipudi explained.
"RNA viruses, such as coronaviruses and influenza viruses, do go through mutations when reproducing, and these mutations can be cumulative. This evolution and the ability of viruses to jump from an animal reservoir into humans generally takes a very long period of time," he said.
Kuchipudi pointed out that coronaviruses in one host, such as human coronaviruses or pig coronaviruses, are adapted to efficiently replicate and transmit among members of that species. The zoonotic spillover events occur when a virus from one host species is mutated, has a chance to infect a new host and then adapts in the new host. This adaptation needs sustained transmission among the members of the new species.
"The COVID-19 virus is a human coronavirus that is infecting and spreading efficiently among humans," he said. "It is believed that it took many years for this virus to emerge from its parent virus in a bat."
Although there have been a few instances of COVID-19 virus infecting some animals, he said, this still is not very widespread, and these few cases are linked to the animals' proximity to an infected human.
"Based on this, it is safe to assume that the animal cases are just opportunistic infections and that the virus does not replicate very efficiently in animals, which means that the animals likely are not a source of infection to humans," Kuchipudi said.
"So the bottom line, based on the best scientific information we have, is that there is no need for concern that pets and other domestic animals will pass this virus to people," he added.
Nevertheless, Kuchipudi cites guidance from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to further reduce any risk to animals or people:
— If you are sick with COVID-19, restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would with other people. Although there have been no reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.
— If you think your animal may have the virus, call your veterinary clinic with any questions about your animal's health. To ensure the veterinary clinic is prepared for the household animal, the owner should call ahead and arrange the hospital or clinic visit. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if your animal was exposed to a person sick with COVID-19 and if your animal is showing any signs of illness.
Pets have other types of coronaviruses that can make them sick, such as canine and feline coronaviruses. These other coronaviruses cannot infect people and are not related to the current COVID-19 outbreak.
— Although there is no reason at this time to think that any animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus, animals can spread other diseases to people. Therefore, it's always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals, such as washing your hands and maintaining good hygiene.
SIGN: Save Tigers and Lions from Miserable Captivity As ‘Pets’
Home » Animals » SIGN: Save Tigers and Lions from Miserable Captivity As ‘Pets’ By Carly Day
Sign This Petition
PETITION TARGET: U.S. Congress
UPDATE (1/22/21): The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act with bipartisan support (272-114) but has not yet been voted on by the U.S. Senate.
Thousands of big cats are wasting away as “pets” in the United States. These majestic animals are torn from their mothers while only babies and may spend their lives pacing miserably in tiny, cramped cages with no hope of a natural life.
Not only do these animals suffer mentally and physically, but they are also a threat to people, with hundreds of dangerous incidents involving big cats and humans occurring over the last 30 years.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act (BCPSA) seeks to ban private individuals from owning any big cat species and restrict direct contact between these animals and the general public.
“Big cats are powerful predators, not pets, and pose a particular threat to public safety,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Only licensed facilities would be allowed to house big cats, effectively removing these animals from roadside zoos.
The BCPSA is currently moving through the Senate (S. 2561) and House of Representatives (H.R. 1380) and needs your support!
Sign this petition urging the new Congress to re-introduce and pass this important bill for big cat protections and to save thousands of big cats from suffering.
Note: Please keep comments peaceful and family friendly.
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What do we know about animals and the virus?
This coronavirus was first detected in humans in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
The coronavirus (called Sars-CoV-2, which causes the disease Covid-19) is thought to have originated in wildlife and been passed to humans via a live animal market in Wuhan.
The pandemic has been driven by human-to-human transmission, but the infection of Nadia raises new questions about human-to-animal transmission.
There have been less than a handful of isolated reports of companion animals testing positive for coronavirus, including two dogs in Hong Kong.
There is "no evidence that any person has been infected with Covid-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats," the zoo's statement noted.
That is also the view of the World Organisation for Animal Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), which says there is no evidence that pet dogs or cats can pass on the coronavirus.
Dr Sarah Caddy, Veterinarian and Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, is among experts to respond to the reports.
"It is surprising that the tiger has become infected with what must have been a fairly low dose of virus - we can assume the tiger did not have continual close contact with the asymptomatic zoo keeper," she said about the transmission.
"It is also interesting that the tiger showed clinical signs consistent with Covid-19 in humans. Although scientific proof is lacking, the chance this is just a coincidence is low."
Conservation experts have warned that the virus could pose a threat to some wildlife like the great apes - and have said measures are needed to reduce the risk of wild gorillas, chimps and orangutans.
What experts know about coronavirus in pets
This novel coronavirus belongs to a family of viruses, some of which cause illness in people and some of which affect certain types of animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers have linked the novel coronavirus' origin to a live animal market in Wuhan, China. It's believed to have animal origins, possibly in bats. But the CDC's website states there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the virus.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, two dogs have so far tested positive for the virus, both in Hong Kong, as well as two cats, one in Hong Kong and another in Belgium. The pets all lived with people diagnosed with the coronavirus.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the canines became infected following "close exposure" to owners sick with the disease. But the organization reports there is no evidence yet that dogs have shown any clinical signs of the virus, or that they have played a role in its spread. Further studies are underway.
On April 5, the United States Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the virus in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York. The test came after several lions and tigers at the zoo showed signs of respiratory illness starting March 27, according to a news release. The USDA in the release said public health officials believe the big cats were exposed to a zoo employee who had the virus.
On April 22, two cats living in different areas of New York also tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the USDA, marking the first time a pet has had a confirmed case in the U.S. The two cats had "mild respiratory symptoms and are expected to make a full recovery," the USDA said in a news release.
According to the USDA, no one in the first cat's home had a confirmed case of COVID-19, meaning the cat could have received the virus from asymptomatic members of the household or from contact with someone outside the household.
The second cat's owner did test positive for COVID-19 before the cat began showing signs, according to the USDA. A second cat in the same home had not yet shown any signs of infection.
The CDC's website also states there needs to be further examination about whether animals could be affected by the virus.
But the USDA agrees with the CDC that there is "no evidence" that animals such as pets or livestock can spread the infection to humans.
The AVMA's website further says that while new research articles have shown some preliminary results that some animals can be infected and transmit the virus to other animals within an experimental setting, those results shouldn't be overinterpreted.
"Currently, we have no information that suggests that pets might be a source of infection for people with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19," the website says.
Health experts have not completely ruled out the possibility of animals' bodies serving as "fomites," or surfaces that virus particles can land on and be transmitted by touch – for example, if someone sneezed on their pet's fur and another person immediately touched the same spot. But porous and fibrous surfaces like pet fur are less likely to transmit the virus than hard surfaces, according to the AVMA.
Preston Moore, Iowa state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said his organization is recommending, as a precaution, that pets receive a bath when they're sent home from an animal shelter.
"Soft surfaces (such as fur) don’t transfer the viruses as well as hard surfaces like stainless steel or plastic, so animals are less likely to act as fomites," he said in an email.
Because pets also can carry other germs that sicken people, the CDC and AVMA do recommend cleaning up after pets, washing hands after handling animals and taking pets to the veterinarian regularly. Also, experts recommend keeping pets away from those sick with coronavirus as a precaution.