Cats and dogs should receive specially developed coronavirus vaccines to stop the emergence of any new mutant strains, scientists have said.
Coronavirus can infect a wide range of species including cats, dogs, mink and other domesticated species, according to experts from the Earlham Institute, the University of East Anglia's (UEA) Norwich-based research facility, and University of Minnesota.
In an editorial for the journal Virulence, they wrote that continued evolution of the virus in animals, followed by transmission to humans, "poses a significant long-term risk to public health".
"It is not unthinkable that vaccination of some domesticated animal species might... be necessary to curb the spread of the infection."
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Last year, Denmark's government culled millions of mink after it emerged that hundreds of Covid-19 cases in the country were linked with coronavirus variants associated with farmed mink.
Cock van Oosterhout, professor of evolutionary genetics at UEA, said dogs and cats can contract coronavirus but there are no known cases in which there has been "spill back" to humans.
"It makes sense to develop vaccines for pets as a precaution," he said. "We really need to be prepared for any eventuality when it comes to Covid.
"I think the best way to do this is consider development of vaccines for animals as well. Interestingly, the Russians have already started to develop a vaccine for pets which there's very little information about."
Kevin Tyler, editor-in-chief of Virulence, said: "Cats are asymptomatic but they are infected by it and they can infect humans with it.
"The risk is that, as long as there are these reservoirs, that it starts to pass as it did in the mink from animal to animal and then starts to evolve animal-specific strains - but then they spill back into the human population and you end up essentially with a new virus, which is related, [and] which causes the whole thing all over again."
He said that while mink were culled in Denmark, "if you were thinking about domestic animals, then you might think about whether you could vaccinate to stop that from happening". He added: "It's not an obvious risk yet."