Considerations for testing animals for SARS-CoV-2
Currently, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low. In some situations, mostly during close contact, people have spread SARS-CoV-2 to certain types of animals, including companion animals (cats and dogs), animals in zoos and aquaria (big cats, great apes, mustelids), farmed mink, and wildlife. There have also been reports of infected animals such as mink, hamsters, and deer spreading the virus to people when in close contact, but this is rare.
Veterinarians should use their clinical judgement, including considering other common causes of illness, when deciding whether to test animals for SARS-CoV-2.
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The decision to test an animal as part of an epidemiologic investigation, including companion animals, livestock or production animals, zoo animals, or wild animals (both captive and free-ranging), should be made collaboratively using a One Health approach that includes local, state, and/or federal public health and animal health officials, as well as state wildlife veterinarians where free-living wildlife are concerned. Pet owners interested in pursuing testing for their animals should consult their veterinarian. Veterinarians should contact their state public health veterinarianpdf iconexternal icon or the designated state official responsible for animal-related issues in public health, and/or their state animal health official external icon to discuss testing. Veterinarians should report any animal that tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 to these same health officials.
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Animal testing for SARS-CoV-2 is available at veterinary diagnostic laboratories, including members of USDA’s National Animal Health Laboratory Networkexternal icon.
Confirmatory testingpdf iconexternal icon through USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) is required for all animals except domestic cats and dogs from state, territorial, local, and tribal jurisdictions that have previously confirmed SARS-CoV-2 in cats and dogs. Confirmatory testing is conducted to monitor the virus and to fulfill international reporting requirements based upon the USDA case definition. Because virus monitoring efforts remain a priority, NVSL continues to support sequencing of all cat or dog samples that meet testing criteriapdf iconexternal icon.
USDA is responsible for confirming and reporting any new animal species that test positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the United States to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) external icon, uploading sequence information to public databases, and posting all confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 on their public dashboard: Confirmed Cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Animals in the United Statesexternal icon.
Clinical criteria for SARS-CoV-2 testing in animals
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Like people, some animals with SARS-CoV-2 infection do not have any signs of illness, while others may have respiratory and/or gastrointestinal illness.
Clinical signs consistent with SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Nasal discharge
- Ocular discharge
Veterinarians should identify if an animal has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and if the animal has clinical signs consistent with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Table 1 describes epidemiological risk factors and clinical features that can help guide decisions regarding animal testing.
If One Health partners determine that testing an animal for SARS-CoV-2 is appropriate, coordination between One Health partners will be needed. Refer to USDA’s Testing and Reportingexternal icon page for sample collection, transport, storage, and test result reporting.
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