The word coronavirus is currently sparking fear and anxiety due to the recent outbreak of a novel strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses have been around for decades and while some are zoonotic, meaning that they can be transmitted between animals and humans, several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
The new strain which was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, in 2019 is named “2019-nCoV.” Other strains that have infected humans include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) which was transmitted from civet cats to humans in China in 2002; and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) which was transmitted from dromedary camels to humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012. While dogs can get canine coronavirus, it cannot be transmitted to humans, but it is highly contagious between dogs.
Coronavirus disease in dogs is a highly infectious intestinal infection that especially affects puppies. Coronavirus is usually short-lived but may cause considerable abdominal discomfort for a few days in infected dogs. The cause is a virus of the Coronaviridae family. The virus gets its name from the fact that when viewed from above under an electron microscope, the virus has a ring of projections that appear like a coronet, or a small crown made of ornaments fixed on a metal ring.
Most cases of canine coronavirus are contracted by oral contact with infected faecal matter. A dog may also become infected by eating from contaminated food bowls or by direct contact with an infected dog. Crowding and unsanitary conditions lead to coronavirus transmission. The incubation period from ingestion to clinical signs is one to four days. The duration of illness is two to ten days in most dogs. Secondary infections by bacteria, parasites, and other viruses may develop and prolong illness and recovery. Dogs may be carriers of the disease for up to six months (180 days) after infection.
Most coronavirus infections are sub-clinical and produce few clinical signs in dogs. Occasionally an infection may cause more severe symptoms, particularly in young pups. The most typical symptom is diarrhoea, typically sudden in onset, which may be accompanied by lethargy and decreased appetite. The stool is loose, with a fetid odour and orange tint. It may contain blood or mucus. Severe cases of coronavirus can be easily confused with parvovirus, and they may occur at the same time.
Be sure to see your veterinarian if your dog has diarrhoea that does not resolve within 24 hours or is associated with significant lethargy or loss of appetite.
There is no specific treatment for coronavirus. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses but may be useful in controlling secondary bacterial infections. Withholding food for 24 hours after diarrhoea ceases and gradually reintroducing small amounts of food may be the only required treatment. A dehydrated patient may require intravenous fluids to correct the fluid and electrolyte imbalances. Early medical intervention is the key to successful treatment of severe cases.
Canine coronavirus vaccines are available. This vaccine is not recommended for all dogs and will be administered based on your dog's lifestyle and risk assessment.