Canine Coronavirus

Dogs

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Coronavirus ("Corona," for short) is a virus causing sudden infection in puppies and dogs. It invades the rapidly growing cells of the intestinal lining resulting in nausea, lack of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. The disease can vary from showing no signs of illness at all to severe illness. However, coronavirus does not result in the same degree of illness associated with parvovirus.

Infection is generally attributed to ingestion of material contaminated by dog feces (stool or bowel movement) and can occur when a dog smells or licks the ground; direct contact with another dog is not necessary for infection. Coronavirus is shed in the feces of infected dogs for months after initial ingestion. Dogs at highest risk for infection are unvaccinated puppies or those that have not yet completed their vaccine series.

Kennel environments and dog shows have led to outbreaks of coronavirus. Dogs of all ages can be infected, but puppies and younger dogs are more susceptible. Unsanitary and/or overcrowded kennels may increase your pet's chance of infection and concurrent infection with parasites, other bacteria or viruses may also increase susceptibility to infection.

Proper vaccination of your pet can best prevent the disease.

What to Watch For

  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (often containing foul-smelling blood)

    These are all common symptoms that should prompt you to visit your veterinarian.         

    Veterinary Care

    Diagnosis

    The signs of coronavirus are similar to parvovirus, so the initial diagnostic tests will likely include a parvoviral test, to rule out the presence of this virus. For a definitive diagnosis of coronavirus infection, isolation and identification can be done in some specialized labs.

    However, since coronavirus is rarely fatal and readily responds to supportive care, most veterinarians diagnose corona based on typical clinical signs, ruling out other causes of gastroenteritis such as intestinal obstruction and a negative parvo test. Your veterinarian will probably recommend diagnostic tests and, depending on severity of illness, a 24-hour hospital stay for treatment.

    Tests May Include

  • Complete medical history and physical examination

  • Blood tests, stool examination and abdominal X-rays to determine the severity of the infection or exclude other causes of the symptoms.

    Treatment

    Therapy is dependent upon the severity of the clinical symptoms. Therapy may include:

  • Constant intravenous (IV) fluid therapy, antibiotics and/or other drugs used to control nausea and vomiting may be administered.

  • Injectable fluids under the skin and medications for home care in mild cases.

    Home Care

  • Allow your pet to rest and regain his strength.

  • Feces should be picked up and kept from other dogs, because most likely they contain the virus.

  • Once vomiting has stopped, encourage water intake. Offer your pet a small amount of water and a bland diet. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet.

  • If your pet is not eating or drinking, is continually tired, vomiting and/or still has diarrhea, call your veterinarian. It takes a few days for stools to normalize.         

    Preventative Care

  • Vaccinate your pet regularly to help prevent infection. (NOTE: Immunity to coronavirus develops after infection, but it is necessary to schedule booster immunizations ("shots") with your veterinarian to protect from other viruses).

  • Minimize contact of unvaccinated puppies with other dogs that may be sick or unvaccinated. This should include avoiding areas where other sick pets may have been. Your pet is most at risk until fully vaccinated (usually 20-24 weeks of age).         

  • Coronavirus can have symptoms similar to many other diseases. These diseases may include:

  • Dietary indiscretion-a common cause of vomiting and diarrhea

  • Food-borne bacterial infection - some foods can give dogs gas or diarrhea, a similar symptom to coronavirus

  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HE)-an inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract causing bloody diarrhea

  • Ileus - a condition in which normal bowel movement is obstructed causing a "functional obstruction" of the intestine

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) - a condition in which inflamed cells clog the intestinal wall causing chronic vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss; biopsy of affected intestine is required for diagnosis

  • Intussusception-a prolapse or "telescoping" of one portion of the intestinal tract into another causing partial or complete obstruction of the bowel, a symptom which can also be a complication of coronavirus; X-rays or an ultrasound may be necessary for diagnosis

  • Mechanical obstruction or foreign body - an object ingested by your pet that is stuck in a part of the intestine (a toy, bone, piece of clothing, etc., for example)

  • Other viral infections of the intestines - parvovirus and other viruses with similar symptoms of coronavirus

  • Pancreatitis - an inflammation of the pancreas (the digestive gland located between the liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach and duodenum)

  • Parasites - intestinal worms that feed on an animal host (some also cause bloody diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, weight loss and lethargy) causing similar symptoms of coronavirus

  • Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

    Diagnosis In-Depth

    Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize coronavirus, and exclude other diseases, including:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination

  • A complete blood count (CBC) is obtained by taking a sample of blood. This will help determine if an infection is present. In this case, your veterinarian will choose the appropriate antibiotic therapy.

  • Serum biochemistry tests are not specific for detection of coronavirus, but they do help your veterinarian determine your pet's hydration status, blood glucose level, kidney function and electrolyte levels. These can help determine the choice of fluid therapy and other medications.

  • Fecal tests are performed to exclude the possibility of intestinal parasite infestation (concurrent infection is common).

    Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended on an individual pet basis, including:

  • Abdominal X-rays may help exclude the possibility of other problems such as gastrointestinal ileus (paralysis of the bowel), obstruction of the bowel, a foreign substance in the stomach or intestine or an intussusception.

  • In atypical cases where an intestinal obstruction is likely, a barium contrast study (where the patient swallows or is administered barium) is recommended.

  • An ultrasound, which is an alternate and noninvasive method, may be used to examine your pet's abdominal organs. (NOTE: An ultrasound is not useful in cases where there is build up of abdominal gas.)

  • If confirmation of diagnosis is necessary, a fecal sample can be sent to a special lab with the ability to isolate the virus using electron microscopy or PCR testing. This test is not available to many veterinarians since it is usually reserved for research purposes.

    Treatment In-Depth

    Treatments for coronavirus may include one or more of the following:

  • Serious cases require hospitalization during which IV fluid therapy, antibiotics and anti-vomiting drugs may be administered.

  • Milder cases may do well with outpatient treatment consisting of subcutaneous fluid therapy, antibiotics, and anti-vomiting drugs.

  • Daily physical examination by your veterinarian to assess your pet's progress is vital.

  • No food or water until vomiting has stopped completely for 12 to 24 hours. Only then can water be offered in small amounts along with small frequent feedings of a bland diet, including such foods as Hill's Prescription Diet i/d, Iams Recovery Diet, Purina En Diet or Waltham Low Fat Diet. Your pet may also be given a bland homemade meal of carbohydrates (boiled rice or potatoes) and protein (lean hamburger, skinless chicken or low-fat cottage cheese) in small amounts. The return to regular dog food must be gradual over a 3 to 4 day period.

  • Fluid therapy is necessary if your pet is dehydrated, actively vomiting or has diarrhea. Severe cases will most likely require IV fluid therapy consisting of an electrolyte solution supplemented with potassium. Milder cases may be treated with SQ (subcutaneous) fluid therapy, which is administered in the loose skin over the back and more slowly absorbed.

  • Antibiotic therapy is often used to control any secondary bacterial infection. Commonly used antibiotics are cefazolin or ampicillinin.

  • Antiemetic drugs may be administered to your pet to control vomiting. Common drugs include: metoclopramide (Reglan®) given SQ or as continuous IV; chlorpromazine (Thorazine®); or prochlorperazine (Compazine®) by injection.

  • Gastrointestinal protectants are sometimes prescribed. Common drugs include: famotidine (Pepcid®), cimetidine (Tagament®) and sucralfate (Carafate®), prescribed only after vomiting is controlled.

  • Anti-diarrheal drugs, which help reduce bowel movements, are only prescribed for unresponsive diarrhea. These include: loperamide, oral opiods and diphenoxylate.

  • Pepto-Bismol® (Bismuth subsalicylate) is sometimes administered when vomiting has stopped.

  • Isolating your dog from other dogs is very important throughout treatment of coronavirus.

  • Worm infestation is treated once your pet is able to eat and drink. The common drug administered is fenbendazole (Panacur®), given orally for three consecutive days.

  • Most dogs affected with coronavirus recover quickly and lead normal lives.

  • Allow your pet to rest and regain its strength.

  • Feces should be picked up and kept from other dogs, because most likely they contain the virus.

  • Once vomiting has stopped, encourage water intake. Offer your pet a small amount of water and a bland diet.

  • Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet.

  • If your pet is not eating or drinking, is continually tired, vomiting and/or still has diarrhea, call your veterinarian. It takes a few days for stools to normalize.

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