Coronavirus update

Emerging coronavirus strains and veterinary patients

Diagnostic update • April 2020

A novel coronavirus causing an outbreak of respiratory disease in humans has led to questions about the importance of this newly discovered virus, if any, to our veterinary patients. This guide provides summary information intended to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about the coronavirus. Our understanding of coronaviruses and their transmission is rapidly evolving and we suggest that you check the reference sources provided at the end of this update for the most recent information.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first detected in China with an initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan. This disease is caused by a novel coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 and is believed to have originated from bats. Since its emergence in late 2019, COVID-19 has spread to locations around the globe.1-3

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is a unique coronavirus that infects the human respiratory tract and differs from previously identified coronaviruses that infect humans or veterinary patients. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses consisting of multiple sub-groups that are commonly found in humans and other mammals, birds and reptiles.

Alpha and beta coronaviruses (including coronaviruses such as those responsible for the common cold in humans) usually infect mammals, while gamma and delta coronaviruses normally infect birds and fish. Many of the common coronaviruses causing disease in pets, such as feline enteric coronavirus, are alpha coronaviruses. SARS-CoV-2, responsible for this COVID-19 respiratory outbreak in humans, is a beta coronavirus.

Coronaviruses in companion animals

While COVID-19 (caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) is primarily a human disease, other coronaviruses play a significant role in causing disease in animals. IDEXX RealPCR tests are available for these common coronavirus infections in dogs, cats, ferrets and horses. These tests are specific to various veterinary coronaviruses and do not detect SARS-CoV-2.6 The coronaviruses detected by these tests are species-specific and do not infect humans.

  • Canine respiratory coronavirus contributes to canine infectious respiratory disease complex (also known as infectious tracheobronchitis or ‘kennel cough’). It causes clinical signs similar to that of the common cold. The IDEXX RealPCR test for canine respiratory coronavirus is included in our Canine Respiratory Disease (CRD) RealPCR Panel.
  • Enteric coronaviruses can cause intestinal infection leading to diarrhoea, particularly in younger animals. Many infections may be asymptomatic. IDEXX RealPCR tests for canine, equine, feline or ferret enteric coronavirus are included in our Diarrhea RealPCR panels. As noted above, these viruses are species-specific. For example, the canine enteric coronavirus does not infect felines and vice versa.
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a mutated form of feline enteric coronavirus that results in severe, generally fatal, systemic inflammatory disease. IDEXX offers an FIP Virus RealPCR Biotype, which detects the most common mutations causing FIP.

Coronaviruses in livestock and poultry

IDEXX also offers tests for coronaviruses that affect livestock and production animals. A gamma coronavirus, infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), is of significant economic importance in poultry. Alpha coronaviruses can cause mild gastrointestinal or respiratory disease in livestock, similar to the signs seen with canine and feline coronaviruses. As with the test above, these tests are specific to various veterinary coronaviruses and do not detect SARS-CoV-2, and the coronaviruses detected by these tests are species-specific and do not infect humans.

  • Infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) causes rapidly spreading respiratory disease in young chicks. Reduced production and poor egg quality can be seen in infected adult hens. An IDEXX ELISA is available for IBV antibody detection.
  • Swine enteric coronaviruses are several coronaviruses that infect swine and cause respiratory or gastrointestinal signs, including transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV). Mild or asymptomatic infections may also occur. An IDEXX RealPCR test is available for TGEV.
  • Bovine coronaviruses may cause diarrhoea in calves. They can also cause winter dysentery, with bloody diarrhoea, mild respiratory signs and decreased production in adult cattle. An IDEXX ELISA is available for the detection of coronavirus antigen in calf diarrhoea.

Transmission of COVID-19 and pets

Leading public health authorities agree that COVID-19 is primarily a human disease that is transmitted directly from person to person in respiratory droplets.1-4 Secondary transmission by touching a surface with the virus on it may also be possible, particularly from smooth surfaces such as plastic or metal.5,6 Porous surfaces such as clothing and fur are thought to be less than ideal surfaces for fomite transmission.

Recent studies have demonstrated that while dogs are generally resistant to infection, cats and ferrets may be infected in experimental settings and transmit the virus to other animals . This is likely due to species differences in ACE-2 receptors.7-9 In isolated cases, reverse zoonotic (infected human to pet) transmission has been reported in cats, ferrets, and dogs.10,11 Infection in cats and ferrets is often subclinical but may present with mild respiratory signs, fever and, in some cases, gastrointestinal signs. In these non-primary host species, infection seems to be of shorter duration than in humans. Unlike dogs and cats, mink have been identified as a species susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2 (for example, by infected humans in high population density situations such as mink farms), and could potentially pose as a reservoir of infection and viral mutation.12 Although transient reverse zoonotic infections have been sporadically reported in dogs living with COVID-19 infected humans, no clinical signs have been reported in these dogs.10,13 Pets are not believed to play a role in transmitting COVID-19 to humans.1-4

An understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and COVID-19 disease is rapidly evolving.

Development of an IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test 

IDEXX Reference Laboratories has developed and validated a real-time PCR test to detect SARS-CoV-2 based on the published genetic sequences of the virus from the human outbreak.14 The IDEXX SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test targets the same nucleocapsid gene as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) assay but has been adapted with a unique alignment for use in animals. It has been carefully designed to avoid cross-reactivity with other veterinary-specific coronaviruses. Specificity studies confirm that there is no cross-reactivity with the new PCR test against common veterinary coronaviruses affecting companion animals. Likewise, currently available RealPCR tests for these veterinary coronaviruses were demonstrated to not detect the SARS-CoV-2 viral nucleic acid. 

During the initial four-week validation of the new SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test, IDEXX tested more than 3,500 canine, feline and equine specimens submitted to IDEXX Reference Laboratories for respiratory RealPCR panels. Specimens were tested in parallel with three assays from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A subset of faecal specimens submitted for diagnostic diarrhoea RealPCR panels were also evaluated as part of the cross-reactivity studies. The specimens originated from the United States and South Korea. Screening was expanded to Canada and European countries starting in mid-March, including areas with high rates of COVID-19 in the human population. 

When to use the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test

At this time, experts do not recommend the screening of nonclinical pets for the SARS-CoV2 virus unless recommended by a public health authority. The IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test may be considered when investigating respiratory disease in ferrets or cats after more common respiratory infections have been ruled out and should be limited to those animals with known or strongly suspected COVID-19 exposure. For cats presenting with respiratory signs, a Feline Upper Respiratory Disease (URD) RealPCR Panel should be considered prior to evaluating for SARS-CoV-2 infection, even in cats from a COVID-19 positive household. Testing of symptomatic pets in COVID-19 infected households may not always be indicated as clinical signs, when present, may generally be mild and transient.

When may it be appropriate to test a pet for COVID-19?

Does the patient have respiratory or other clinical signs of COVID-19?


Do not test for COVID-19


Test for more common causes:

Canine Upper Respiratory PCR Panel

Canine Upper Respiratory PCR Panel plus bacterial culture

Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 1 (Feline)

Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 1 plus bacterial culture (Feline)

Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 2 (Feline)

Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 2 plus bacterial culture (Feline)


Has the patient been tested for common respiratory pathogens?


Cause found on the respiratory RealPCR panel?


Is there a history of the patient being exposed to COVID-19 (e.g. infected human in household)?


Do not test for COVID-19



Do not test for COVID-19

Consultation with the state public health veterinarian recommended prior to testing

SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test

SARS-CoV-2 specimen collection guidelines

You are encouraged to contact a public health authority for the latest guidelines on safely collecting specimens prior to testing for SARS-CoV-2 in a pet. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves, mask, gown and eye protection is recommended when collecting specimens from a pet in which SARS-CoV-2 infection is suspected.

The ideal specimen should be based on clinical presentation and purpose for testing. 

  • Based on current scientific knowledge The APHA recommends oropharyngeal and rectal swabs as the only suitable specimen types for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals. IDEXX recommends that an oropharyngeal swab +/- rectal swab be submitted along with any other samples submitted as this may be required to be forwarded to APHA in the instance of a positive result.
  • For respiratory manifestations: deep pharyngeal swab (with visible organic material on swab; please rub firmly) and a conjunctival swab (wipe eye clean, swab inside of eyelid). If the patient is cooperative, a swab from the caudal nasal cavity may also be included. Please submit dry, plastic-stemmed swabs, without transport media; keep refrigerated. 
  • For gastrointestinal manifestations: 3-5 g (1 g minimum) fresh faeces in a sterile container and deep pharyngeal swab (with visible organic material on swab; please rub firmly) and a conjunctival swab (wipe eye clean, swab inside of eyelid). Please submit dry, plastic-stemmed swabs, without transport media; keep refrigerated.
  • No distinct clinical signs (e.g. public health investigations): 3-5 g (1 g minimum) fresh faeces in a sterile container and deep pharyngeal swab (with visible organic material on swab; please rub firmly), conjunctival swab (wipe eye clean, swab inside of eyelid) and caudal nasal swab.

Managing SARS-CoV-2 positive pets

The detection of infection with SARS-CoV-2 in animals meets the criteria for reporting to the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) (of which the UK is a member country) as an emerging infection in accordance with the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. 8. SARS-CoV-2 is currently not a notifiable disease in animals in the UK (or EU) nevertheless, veterinarians have a professional obligation to report positive test results to the competent authority (Office of the UK Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) in England and respective CVOs in the devolved administrations) to support the UK’s international reporting obligations to the OIE.

Positive PCR results in a pet from a COVID-19 positive household may result from either reverse zoonotic transmission of infection from the infected owner (or other infected human) to the pet or may reflect environmental contamination. It is important to interpret results based on history, clinical signs and the results of diagnostic tests for common veterinary pathogens. 

Infected pets should be treated symptomatically based on their clinical signs and monitored for evidence of secondary complications (e.g. bacterial infection). If respiratory signs are mild enough that hospitalisation is not required, it is recommended that the pet be isolated at home with its owner. Repeat RealPCR testing in one to two weeks should be considered to confirm that the pet is no longer PCR positive before considering the household clear of infection or allowing the pet to mingle with other unexposed animals (especially cats or ferrets). 

Prevention of COVID-19 infection

Recommendations for prevention of the spread of COVID-19 are centred around preventing exposure. These include limiting person-to-person contact with sick individuals, limiting travel and attendance at gatherings of large numbers of people, regular hand washing and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.1,2

At this time, no antiviral medications have proven to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19. Similarly, no commercially available vaccines are currently indicated for the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection in humans or animals.

Although reverse zoonotic infection (humans to their pets) resulting in clinical disease is considered uncommon, the AVMA and CDC and other authorities globally recommend limiting contact with any pets if a pet owner has been diagnosed with COVID-19 infection as a precautionary animal health measure. If possible, another family or household member should provide daily care of the pet.

IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test positive result

The attending veterinary surgeon must notify the local public health authority

Does the pet require hospitalisation?


Care for in an isolation ward to avoid infecting other unexposed patients


History of COVID-19 infected human(s) in the household?


Care for at home with the owner, keep indoors and isolated from naïve animals and wash hands before and after handling pets

Provide symptomatic care; monitor for secondary complications

Reintroduce to normal activities after at least 14 days following resolution of clinical signs and/or a negative follow-up PCR test


Exposure source likely from outside the home? (e.g. recently adopted, indoor/outdoor cat, history of boarding)


Consult local public health authorities; risk assessment to determine whether to isolate the pet at home or at a veterinary clinic may depend on several factors, such as the following:

  • Length of time the animal has been in the household since the exposure occurred
  • Whether other humans or pets were also exposed to the suspected source
  • Presence of immunocompromised or high-risk pets or humans in the household


Human(s) in the household may have subclinical infection; consult local public health authorities to determine the next steps, if any, to assess human(s) for infection

Additional resources

Visit these websites for the most up-to-date information on the COVID-19 outbreak and for useful resources about prevention and control of COVID-19.

Ordering information

Test names and codes

Test code: COVIDP              


Test code: COVIDPFU         

IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test Follow-up

Follow up on a prior RealPCR test or panel

Please use for the test ordering or write the test code manually on the order form. 

Test for more common causes of respiratory illness to be considered prior to testing for SARs-CoV-2 (COVID-19)


Canine Upper Respiratory PCR Panel

Canine Adenovirus type 2 PCR, Canine Distempervirus PCR, Canine Herpesvirus (CHV-1) PCR, Canine
Parainfluenza Virus Type 3 PCR, Canine Influenza Virus PCR, Canine Respiratory Coronavirus PCR, Bordetella bronchiseptica PCR.

Code– CRP1


Canine Upper Respiratory PCR Panel plus bacterial culture

Code– CRPC


Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 1 (Feline)

Chlamydia felis PCR, FHV-1 PCR, Calicivirus PCR

Code– FUR1


Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 1 plus bacterial culture (Feline)

Code– FU1C


Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 2 (Feline)

Chlamydia felis PCR, FHV-1 PCR, Calicivirus PCR, Mycoplasma felis PCR, Bordetella bronchiseptica PCR
Code: FUR2

Code– FUR2


Upper Respiratory PCR Panel 2 plus bacterial culture (Feline)

Code– FU2C

Specimen requirements

Deep pharyngeal swab (with visible organic material on swab; please rub firmly) and a conjunctival swab (wipe eye clean, swab inside of eyelid). Please submit dry, plastic-stemmed swabs, without transport media; keep refrigerated. 

Additional specimens for IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test: if the patient is cooperative, a swab from the caudal nasal cavity may also be included. If gastrointestinal signs are present, also include 3-5 g (1 g minimum) fresh faeces in a sterile tube.

Service and support

Turnaround time

Preliminary results in 3–4 days; allow additional time for confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 PCR positive results.

Customer support services

IDEXX supports your practice with our customer support, technical support and medical consulting services team, including our diagnostic support veterinarians and board-certified specialists.

0203 7887 508


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Accessed April 16, 2020.
  2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Accessed April 16, 2020.
  3. American Veterinary Medical Association. COVID-19: What veterinarians need to know. Accessed April 16, 2020.
  4. World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). The new coronavirus and companion animals—advice for WSAVA members. Accessed April 16, 2020.
  5. Ong SWX, Tan YK, Chia PY, et al. Air, surface environmental, and personal protective equipment contamination by serve acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from a symptomatic patient [published online ahead of print March 4, 2020]. JAMA. 2020;e203227. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3227
  6. van Doremalen N, Bushmaker Y, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-COV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med2020;382(16):1564–1567. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973
  7. Wan Y, Shang J, Graham R, Baric RS, Li F. Receptor recognition by the novel coronavirus from Wuhan: An analysis based on decade-long structural studies of SARS coronavirus. J Virol. 2020;94(7):e00127-20. doi:10.1128/JVI.00127-20
  8. Shi J, Wen Z, Zhong G, et al.  Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs and other domesticated animals to SARS-coronavirus 2. Science. 2020;eabb7015. doi:10.1126/science.abb7015
  9. Kim Y, Kim SG, Kim SM, et al. Infection and rapid transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in ferrets [published online ahead of print April 5, 2020]. Cell Host Microbe. 2020;S1931-3128(20)30187-6. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2020.03.023
  10. Questions and answers on the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Surveillance and events in animals. World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) website. Updated April 9, 2020. Accessed April 16, 2020.
  11. USDA Cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Animals in the United States. USDA Animal and Plate Health Inspection Service website. Updated February 15, 2021. Accessed March 16, 2021.
  12. OIE Statement on COVID-19 and Mink. OIE World Organisation for Animal Health website. Accessed March 16, 2021.
  13. Low-level of infection with COVID-19 in pet dog [news release]. Hong Kong: Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; March 4, 2020. Accessed April 16, 2020.
  14. Journal of Small Animal Practice (2020), 1-7: Frequency of respiratory pathogens and SARS-CoV-2 in canine and feline samples submitted for respiratory testing in early 2020. doi: 10.1111/jsap.13300.


PCR testing is a service performed pursuant to an agreement with Roche Molecular Systems, Inc.

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