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What Pet Owners Need to Know About the Delta Variant

As the Delta variant spreads, pet owners may wonder if this strain of SARS-CoV-2 can infect animals and what the future holds for animals. Dr. Leyi Wang, an expert in coronaviruses and recent recipient of the University of Illinois Presidential Medallion for his outstanding contributions to the university’s and nation’s response to the pandemic, answers some of these questions.

Q & A With Dr. Leyi Wang

Leyi Wang, DVM, PhD, DACVM, “literally wrote the book on coronaviruses”: his 218-page tome entitled Animal Coronaviruses, published in 2016.

As part of the SHIELD program that was implemented on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus in 2020, and later extended to schools and organizations across the state and nation, Dr. Leyi Wang oversaw the development of the rapid saliva-based testing protocol and worked tirelessly to construct and oversee the specialized laboratory created to analyze samples from campus.
  • Did the new Delta variant come from an animal? 

The original SARS-CoV-2 strain likely originated from bat coronaviruses. The Delta variant was first identified in India in December 2020 and has dominated outbreaks in several countries, including the United States. The Delta variant evolved through genome mutations in the original SARS-CoV-2 strain in humans and did not come directly from animals.

  • Why is the Delta variant more transmissible? 

It may be due to significantly more viral particles being present in the airways of individuals infected with the Delta variant. One study showed that Delta variant viral loads are ~1,000 times higher than those caused by other variants, facilitating viral transmission from infected to uninfected individuals.

  • Can animals get the new Delta variant?

Yes, there is one report about the infection of captive Asiatic lions with Delta mutant strain.

If yes, can they transmit it back to a human?

Documented evidence showed that infected minks with non-Delta strains transmitted the virus back to humans, so it is highly likely that animals infected with the Delta variant can transmit the virus back to humans.

  • Do dogs and cats need to be vaccinated for SARS-Cov-2? Is a SARS-Cov-2 vaccine for animals available?

Currently, there are no commercial vaccines available for animals. Zoetis has donated over 11,000 doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine to many zoos. This is for vaccinating more than 100 mammalian species. Except for farmed minks, the USDA is not considering approval of commercial vaccines for animals.

Russia has the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine for animals (Carnivac-Cov, or Karnivak-Kov), which has been designed for carnivores.

  • What other important or interesting information would you like to share? 

A recent study showed that 40% of wild white-tailed deer were shown seropositive for SARS-CoV-2, so continued monitoring in domestic and wild animals is needed.

photo by @fusion_medical_animation on Unsplash