A worrying connection has been made between a variant of COVID-19 and heart failure in our beloved pets. The Alpha variant, which was the talk of the town in 2020, has been detected in pets presenting with myocarditis – a damaging form of inflammation affecting the heart muscle.
Described in a new study in the journal Veterinary Record, the association was drawn from a handful of cases including two cats and one dog that tested positive via PCR test for the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant. Two other cats and a different dog are also included in the report, each testing positive for antibodies a few weeks after presenting with heart disease. All of the animals were connected in presenting with acute onset of cardiac disease, marking the first time this association has been made in domestic pets.
The paper points to a reasonable source of the pets’ disease: their owners, many of which had respiratory symptoms in the weeks before their pets fell ill. Humans are also at risk of developing myocarditis from COVID-19, but the connection hadn't yet been made for cats and dogs.
“Our study reports the first cases of cats and dogs affected by the COVID-19 alpha variant and highlights, more than ever, the risk that companion animals can become infected with SARS-CoV-2,” said lead author Luca Ferasin of The Ralph Veterinary Referral Centre, in a statement.
“We also reported the atypical clinical manifestations characterized by severe heart abnormalities, which is a well-recognised complication in people affected by COVID-19 but has never [been] described in pets before. However, COVID-19 infection in pets remains a relatively rare condition and, based on our observations, it seems that the transmission occurs from humans to pets, rather than vice versa.”
Our pets’ hearts, just like ours, are made up of muscle called myocardium. Myocarditis is a condition in which this muscle becomes inflamed. Myocarditis can hinder the heart’s capacity to pump and cause abnormal rhythms called arrhythmias, neither of which are good for us or our pets. The condition often follows a viral infection, though it can sometimes develop as a reaction to medication. It usually presents with chest tightness, discomfort, and a rapid heart beat as well as an increased risk of stroke.
While infection in pets remains rare, the research highlights that infection with COVID-19 can lead to severe symptoms even for our fur babies, and that, at the time of writing, they are more likely to catch the disease from us than we are from them.