As Covid-19 ravaged the world at the start of 2020, dogs in the UK were suffering an outbreak of another coronavirus, a study has revealed.
Reports from concerned owners and disquieted vets at the time indicated more pet pooches than usual were getting ill and severely vomiting.
Researchers studying the outbreak now believe it was caused by an animal coronavirus — most likely a variant of canine enteric coronavirus (CeCoV).
Humans can not catch this type of coronavirus and it is not the same as SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus which causes Covid-19 in people.
There were various media reports of concerned pet owners who were mystified as to why their beloved companions were becoming violently ill, with vets at the time warning the condition of some animals was very serious.
A team of scientists led by the University of Liverpool and the University of Lancaster dished out 1,258 case questionnaires to vets and owners while obtaining 95 clinical samples from 71 animals.
Outbreaks of disease among dogs are rare because records often only come from domesticated animals, not strays, due to the need for the animal to go to a vet.
Diseases that are known to affect dogs have vaccines to prevent them, which are highly effective and prevent the majority of canine pathogens.
So when Danielle Greenberg, a vet in the North West of England, spotted around 40 cases of severe vomiting in dogs she reached out to colleagues around the UK.
Ms Greenberg is a co-author on the paper which combined expert opinion with lab analysis and identified the cause of the outbreak.
Electronic health records were scrutinised which contained information on breed, sex, neuter status, age, owners’ postcodes, and vaccination status.
A PCR test was run on samples from poorly dogs and revealed infection with the canine enteric coronavirus, a stomach bug.
The outbreak was also tracked and found to span from December 2019 to March 2020, peaking on February 2, 2020.
Questionnaires revealed most of the dogs were up to date on their jabs and deworming and their main symptoms were a loss of appetite and vomiting.
Less than one per cent of the dogs died after contracting the virus and the dogs recovered, on average, in less than a week.
‘In conclusion, this multidisciplinary approach enabled a rapid response to a newly described outbreak of canine gastroenteritis and identified a CeCoV as a potential cause,’ the researchers write in the study, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.
‘Previous CeCoV seasonality suggests further outbreaks may occur.’