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What Is Canine Coronavirus, and Is It Serious?

Updated on September 3, 2015
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As Bad As It Sounds, It's Often A Non-Issue

Its very name can strike terror in the hearts of pet owners; it just sounds chilling, don’t you agree? It’s a fairly common (especially in communities of dogs), highly contagious viral infection that invades the dog’s small intestine and replicates the villi.

The villi are tiny, not quite microscopic finger-like projections that protrude from the lining of the intestine, thereby increasing the total area of the intestinal lining which, in turn, provides more surface area to facilitate nutrient absorption.

I say why not just have another foot or so of intestine? That’s how I’d have built it. It’s the villi, by the way, that give the intestinal lining that velvety appearance we never get to see but hear so much about.

Anyway, the disease is often a non-issue as symptoms are typically mild or absent. There are exceptions, of course, such as in the case of very young puppies or dogs that have a compromised immune system. And it’s quite problematic if coupled with canine parvovirus.

Coronavirus is carried in the stool of infected dogs and is spread when other dogs lick the hind end of infected dogs or consume their stool (back on the block we called that coprophagia). The virus can be shed in the stool for months after initial infection.

Cats Are Susceptible, Too

There’s also a feline coronavirus and the symptoms are usually mild or absent, however in 5 to 10 per cent of cases, it can advance to the point of causing feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and that definitely is a problem. And another hub.

There’s no test for Coronavirus but the veterinarian can do a serum titer at the time of symptoms and another one two to six weeks later to arrive at a retrospective diagnosis: “Yep, ‘ole Boomer had coronavirus last month.”

The symptoms, if there are any, usually start with the dog acting lethargic and losing his appetite, vomiting and, perhaps, having bouts of diarrhea in which he passes soft to watery, foul smelling, yellow to orange stools (I just love the way the literature talks about “foul smelling” stools; as if they're contrasting them to pleasant smelling stools). Sometimes you may see some blood.

Treatment of coronavirus is as simple as treating the symptoms. You’ll need to control the vomiting and diarrhea, and see to it that the dog doesn’t become dehydrated. There’s a vaccine available, but few vets recommend it because the disease is usually so mild.

There’s also a respiratory coronavirus that was discovered in the UK back in 2003. It’s similar to the coronavirus that infects cattle and to the virus that gives us the common cold. It has since spread to other European countries, Japan, the United States and Canada.

Infected dogs usually have mild symptoms including runny nose, sneezing and cough; and sometimes the dog will not show any symptoms at all but will continue to shed the virus and infect other dogs.

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