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Apr 01, 2020

How the Coronavirus Has Evolved and Affected Animals

By Diane L. Grigg

Hysteria is never a good thing. The energy it creates becomes quickly out of control, affecting wider and wider parameters. The outbreak of this rampant emotion leads to a distortion of facts with a high dose of anxiety and panic. In this period of history, we are globally fighting a microscopic enemy, a virus, a potent concoction of cells that, under the right conditions, can multiply rapidly even before a host shows any signs of infection. Healthy individuals with strong immune systems are the least of its targets. This new novel virus appears to affect those under situations which cause immune suppression. It does not play favorites, yet that does not spell defeat. The scientific community has to rise up and figure it out.

Disease spreads through many avenues. Viruses, like the current COVID-19 virus, are coronaviruses, transmitted through the air and affecting the respiratory system. This opportunistic virus uses the air we breathe collectively to settle in the respiratory tract and multiply. We all breathe the same air, albeit filtered through the atmosphere of whatever pollution exists in our local environment. This environmental manipulation allows these intruders to prey upon the perfect hosts. Some researchers believe the respiratory damage done via air pollution allows these insidious viruses a wide open door.

Coronaviruses are identified as such because of the virus particles surrounding the cell resembling the ring of light encircling the sun, giving it a coronated, crown-like halo. These particles are able to attach themselves and incorporate into a host cell thereby becoming a part of replication and translation. Viruses cannot replicate unless merged in a host cell. The coronaviruses genome, its genetic makeup, becomes part of the host cell’s translation of the DNA message. Each and every cell is affected by this uninvited guest. Once integrated, it can be difficult to halt the process. The cells are then able to carry out the message of infection.

The collection of coronaviruses is known to affect mammals and birds. So it is a natural inclination to think that the current novel coronavirus will at some point affect the animals we share our life with. This cross-species transmission or interspecies transmission is worrisome as at this point CoVid-19 has been weakly detected in some dogs in Asia. It is believed that these dogs were infected by the humans they interacted with, yet have not shown symptoms of the virus.

The most recent ancestor of the coronavirus is believed to be from around 8000 BCE and originated from bats and birds. The ability to fly enabled virulent creatures to spread the contagion rapidly in a population. A coronavirus infecting cows and dogs was discovered in 1951, evolving from a cow/human coronavirus which diverged from a horse virus at the end of the 18th century. In the 1960s, a chicken coronavirus evolved. Veterinary medicine officially recognized the virus in the 1970s. A vaccine for the coronavirus exists, but it is not routinely given to most dogs.

A canine coronavirus can attack the digestive system, spreading from dog to dog through contact with feces. Symptoms include fever, vomiting and loss of appetite. Keeping dogs away from infected animals is the best precaution as is frequently washing bedding. Staying away from a dog park is a wise choice. Viruses are hard to treat. A pathogen must run its course before an animal is OK. Puppies and those with compromised immune systems often succumb and die.

In cats, the coronavirus evolved into two forms: feline enteric coronavirus and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a disease which causes certain death. If shelters do not triage and isolate incoming animals, these infections can spread quickly. Because symptoms can be problematic, a cat can be adopted exhibiting no symptoms. Once introduced into a multi-cat household these viruses can gain an advantage. Ferrets and rabbits, too, can be affected by a coronavirus. They can develop a lethal gastrointestinal syndrome. Pigs are affected by a bat-related virus which causes acute diarrhea. Because chickens, cows and pigs, as well as other exotic animals are consumed globally, it is no wonder that coronaviruses have developed the ability to rapidly mutate potentially affecting large populations.

At this time there is no empirical evidence that the novel coronavirus, CoVid-19, can spread to our best friends via interacting with us. It is suggested that those affected stay quarantined until such time the virus has run its course. This is difficult for those who enjoy outings with their animal companions, especially dogs. The best advice is to stay calm and adhere to routine sanitation procedures. If there is a possibility of infection, resist the urge to cuddle or kiss your animals. Contact your veterinarian before there is an issue and find out what other precautions to take. Stay informed, not paranoid. This approach, in the end, is the best way to keep our best friends and ourselves safe.