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Study to Examine COVID-19 Transmission between Pets and Owners

Among the more than 120 pets that have tested positive in the US, there is no evidence suggesting that pets can spread the virus to humans

The Translational Genomics Research Institute

Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life-changing results. TGen is affiliated with City of Hope, a world-renowned independent research...

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Hayley Yaglom, TGen genomic epidemiologist and lead researcher on a project to test pets for COVID-19, takes a blood sample from a dog.
Courtesy of TGen

PHOENIX, AZ — March 10, 2021 — The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, announced today the start a new scientific study: Testing pets of those Arizonans who have contracted COVID-19.

No pets will be harmed during this study as all sample collections will be performed by trained veterinary staff. Among the more than 120 pets that have tested positive nationwide, there is no evidence suggesting that pets can spread the virus to humans.

TGen received a grant from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to conduct a pilot study to investigate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in animals. The funds come from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE).

So far, four pets—two dogs, and two cats—have tested positive for COVID-19 in Arizona.

"We want to better understand the risk factors leading to any form of COVID-19 transmission between humans and animals," said Hayley Yaglom, a genomic epidemiologist and lead TGen investigator on the study.

Eligibility for testing pets

Dog and cat owners who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past two weeks are eligible to participate in the study. The tests are free. Owners must be at least 18, provide consent and fill out a questionnaire. The pet must be vaccinated against rabies, mainly housed indoors, and tolerant of the handling and restraint necessary for routine veterinary care.

Project staff, accompanied by a veterinarian, will visit the households of qualifying pet owners to collect nasal, fecal, and blood samples.

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Tests for the presence of the COVID-19 virus, or antibodies against the disease, will be conducted by TGen, which has provided human testing and genomic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Pet owners must wear masks during sample collection, and project staff will wear masks and gloves. Spanish-speaking staff will be available, as needed. Pet owners will be notified of test results within three to four weeks. For pets that test positive, owners may be asked to enable collection of additional samples. Positive tests will be reported to the Arizona State Veterinarian and ADHS.

Expanding TGen's One Health initiative

This pilot project comes under the umbrella of TGen's One Health Collaborative, an initiative begun by TGen in 2018 to integrate research findings and create a holistic view of human, animal, and environmental health, according to David Engelthaler, PhD, head of TGen's infectious disease studies.

"In addition to conducting surveillance for the COVID-19 virus in companion animals," Engelthaler said, "our work also aims to develop a response plan among One Health collaborators, highlighting best practices and how to effectively integrate SARS-CoV-2 and other animal and human pathogen surveillance into established systems."

- This press release was originally published on the TGen website. It has been edited for style