Coronavirus is a common, highly infectious cause of diarrhea in dogs. This virus is easy to catch, but the good news is that, as a rule, the tummy upset is mild rather than life-threatening.
The signs are those of mild diarrhea, which is not usually serious unless the dog is very young (and has a weak immune system), in which case it can potentially be more dangerous.
Researchers also suspect that the coronavirus may mutate and cause chest infections, which, again, are usually mild except in those who are weakened because of their age or general ill health.
Some dogs come into contact with coronavirus and are not ill themselves but do shed virus in their feces and pose an infection risk to other dogs.
Coronavirus is so called because of the shape of the virus, which has projections on the surface resembling a crown. That said, its appearance is the most pleasant thing about a virus that causes diarrhea and may mutate to contribute toward some forms of respiratory disease.
In the right conditions the virus can survive on the ground and soil for a couple of days, but it is deactivated by sunlight, heat and drying, so the summer months tend to see a lull in the number of cases. Coronavirus, however, can survive for longer in the freezing temperatures of winter.
Infection is spread when dogs come into contact with feces containing coronavirus and usually shows signs 1–2 days after infection.
Unfortunately, dogs don’t seem to develop immunity, so even though a dog has had coronavirus-related diarrhea once, this doesn’t protect him from further infection in the future.
Diagnosis of coronavirus revolves around either finding the virus in feces or evidence of the virus’s presence on blood tests. The latter involves taking 2 blood samples a couple of weeks apart and looking for the body mounting an immune response against the virus.
There is no drug that targets the coronavirus itself, and so treatment is largely a matter of feeding a bland diet that is easier for the gut to process and giving supportive care as needed.
This includes making sure the dog drinks plenty of fresh water so he doesn’t get dehydrated and giving probiotics and multivitamins to strengthen the health of the bowel wall.
In this video, Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, explains more:
A vaccine is available that prevents infection.
The vaccine protocol requires 2 injections given 3 weeks apart and then an annual booster jab to maintain protection. This vaccine is not given routinely, so if coronavirus is something that concerns you, speak with your veterinarian.
- “Canine coronavirus highly pathogenic for dogs.” Buonavoglia et al. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 12(3): 494–494.
- “Studies on the epizootiology of canine coronavirus.” Tennant, Gaskell & Jones. Vet Rec, 132: 7–11.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Jan. 3, 2016.