Cats and Coronavirus
Your cat concerns regarding Covid-19 answered in one portal
It’s a strange time for us all as we face an unseen enemy that is Covid 19. It’s stressful enough worrying about our family and friends, our children, finances, the uncertainty of the future and the challenges of lockdown so the last thing we need to add to the list of concern is about our precious cats and coronavirus.
Therefore I’ve decided to answer the most common questions being asked on the Internet about cats and Coronavirus in one portal below. Reliable and trusted sources and links are shown before each question.
- Can cats catch Coronavirus?
I have been listing reports below as this is a moving area of concern. Please scroll down to get the latest advice as it comes out.
There are reports of 2 dogs testing positive for the virus in Hong Kong. Tests on 17 dogs and eight cats from households with confirmed COVID-19 cases or persons in close contact with confirmed patients, showed that only two dogs had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. One had developed antibodies to the virus which means it was infected but showed no sign of the disease. There is now also a report of a cat in Belgium showing the protein from the virus in faeces and vomit, but no report yet as to whether it had antibodies and was therefore infected. The cat had been unwell, but again we do not know if this was linked or coincidental. These findings indicate that dogs and cats are not infected easily with this virus, and there is no evidence that they play a role in the spread of the virus.
The spokesman in Hong Kong reminded pet owners ‘to adopt good hygiene practices (including hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing them) and to maintain a clean and hygienic household environment. People who are sick should restrict contacting animals. If there are any changes in the health condition of the pets, advice from a veterinarian should be sought as soon as possible. There is currently no evidence that pet animals become sick and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets’.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and World Health Organization currently states there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease or become sick from it and there is no indication for taking measures that may compromise companion animal welfare.
Therefore, there is no need to consider rehoming pets or abandoning them during this pandemic because of worries about the disease being able to spread between people and pets. Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact.
If you do have COVID-19, then it is sensible to restrict contact with pets until more is known about the virus. When possible, people who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid close contact with their pets and have another member of their household care for their animals. If they must look after their pet, they should maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask if possible.
The Hong Kong government has reported that a Pomeranian that previously tested weak positive for COVID-19 (after being exposed to a COVID-19-positive owner) had indeed been infected with the virus after subsequent testing. This patient had developed an immune response to the viral infection, and antibodies were identified in the blood.
In addition, a feline patient in Europe has tested positive for COVID-19. The cat’s owner was infected with COVID-19.
Experts continue to believe that dogs and cats are not easily infected with this virus, and the risk of transmission to humans is negligible compared to the risk of human-human transmission.
It is also unlikely that dogs and cats will become ill from the virus. Authorities continue to recommend that owners wash their hands before and after handling animals, their food, or their supplies and that people avoid kissing pets.
Veterinarians and human health officials will continue to monitor this situation as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
Update: 8th April 2020.
Regarding the latest news report: https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/science-environment-52204534?fbclid=IwAR2SMaicp3LC2JhKx9fiACox1spJO9eg-IvDs0xwWpBu6rn4Y3kCSVWITyk
UPDATE 27th July 2020:
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued advice for pet owners after it emerged that the virus responsible for Covid-19 had been detected in a pet cat in England, in the first such known case in the UK.
A statement issued by Defra today (Monday July 27, 2020) said that the infection was confirmed following tests at the Animal Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratory in Weybridge on Wednesday July 22.
A private vet diagnosed the pet with feline herpes, a common respiratory infection in cats, but the sample was also tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus as part of a research programme. Follow-up tests at the APHA laboratory confirmed that the cat was simultaneously infected with this virus.
The government has emphasised that all available evidence suggests that the cat contracted the coronavirus from its owners, who had previously tested positive for Covid-19. The cat and its owners have since made a full recovery and no other animals or people in the household were affected.
Staff at the veterinary practice where the cat was treated were aware of the household’s Covid-19 status and were not impacted by the virus.
Responding to the news, BVA President Daniella Dos Santos said:
“While pet owners may be worried by this news, we’d like to emphasise that there continues to be no evidence that infected pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners. There have been a tiny number of cases of Covid-19 in domestic animals worldwide and in all cases, it appears likely that the transmission was from infected humans to animals.
“We have been in touch with vets in Government and the local veterinary practice for information and have been informed that the cat only showed mild clinical signs and has since made a full recovery.
“Our advice to pet owners who have Covid-19 or who are self-isolating with symptoms remains to restrict contact with their pets as a precautionary measure and to practise good hygiene, including regular handwashing.
“We also recommend that owners who are confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19 should keep their cat indoors if possible, but only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors. Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.
“It is also the case that animals may act as fomites, as the virus could be on their fur in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs. That’s why good hand hygiene remains important.”
BVA has issued the following advice for pet owners confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19:
1. Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary measure.
2. If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
3. Keep cats indoors if possible, and only if they are happy to be indoors. Try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practise good hand hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals can pass Covid-19 to humans.
4. If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice first and alert them to the household’s status.
5. If your pet requires essential treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.
More BVA guidance for pet owners is available at: www.bva.co.uk/coronavirus
The latest government guidance on how to continue to care for pet animals during the coronavirus pandemic can be viewed at: www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-people-with-animals
The RSPCA has also responded to the news:
“We would like to reassure pet owners that despite the news that a pet cat has tested positive for Coronavirus in the UK, there is still no evidence to suggest that people can catch COVID-19 from their pets.
“A very small number of animals have been reported to have tested positive for, or shown symptoms of, COVID-19. Some of these animals were deliberately exposed to the disease in an artificial setting which did not represent real life. The others were cases where the virus has reportedly been passed from a person to an animal. Importantly, to date, there is no known evidence of the virus passing from pets to humans.
“Therefore, we would urge people not to be alarmed and to continue to take sensible precautions, as we would advise at any time, such as washing your hands before and after stroking your cat. This is because like human hands, pet fur could carry the virus and so it is important to adopt good hygiene when interacting with our pets, especially if they could have been in contact with other people. This is good advice at any time and not specific to the Coronavirus situation. This means thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after interacting with them and avoiding being kissed or licked and sharing food with them.
“Information on how pet owners can take steps to keep themselves and their animals as safe as possible during this time can be found on our website: www.rspca.org.uk/-/we-re-reassuring-cat-owners-during-coronavirus-crisis”
- Can Coronavirus remain on my cat’s coat if someone touched or coughed on them?
It is possible that a person with COVID-19 could sneeze or otherwise contaminate their pet, and then another individual could touch that animal and contract the disease. Veterinary experts believe the risk for transmission would be low. COVID-19 survives longer on hard, inanimate surfaces (e.g., glass, metal) than on soft surfaces (e.g., fur, cardboard). Nevertheless, animals living with sick individuals should be kept away from other people and animals (quarantined at home), just as people who live with sick individuals must avoid contact with others.
More advice about this on International Cat Care
Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (eg, countertops, doorknobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (eg, paper money, pet fur), because porous, and especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the virus, making it harder to pick it up through simple touch. Under laboratory conditions, the coronavirus seems to be able to survive on smooth surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, but less time on surfaces such as cardboard (24 hours). The amount of virus decreases quickly over time on each of those surfaces, so that risk of infection from touching them will probably decrease over time as well.
No research has been done about whether it can be passed on animal’s coats, but because dog and cat hair is porous and fibrous, it is very unlikely that you would contract COVID-19 by stroking or playing with your pets. However, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands before and after interacting with them.
- Is it true that hand sanitisers are poisonous to cats?
The chemical of concern in antifreeze is ethylene glycol. Hand sanitizers, which are either ethanol- or isopropanol-based, do not contain ethylene glycol. It is true that ethylene glycol is very dangerous to pets (and humans) if ingested, even in small quantities, but such a fact is irrelevant to the issue at hand.
Although ethanol poisoning (i.e what happens when a human drinks a medically dangerous amount of alcohol) is possible if a pet were to consume large quantities of hand sanitizer, an animal merely licking a recently sanitized hand is not cause for concern.
- Can I walk my cat during the UK lockdown?
According to International Cat Care
Some sources are recommending keeping cats indoors because we are not 100% sure whether the virus can be transmitted on the coat, and that would certainly totally remove any risk. This is to protect others (in case you are positive for the virus) if they touch your cat, and yourself, should people transfer the virus to your cat. However, most cats don’t want to be touched by other people. Keeping a cat inside which is used to access outside could be very stressful for the cat and hence also for owners. Once again common sense should prevail. If you live somewhere with very few other people around, then there is a very limited risk, if you are in a densely populated area and you have a very friendly cat, you might consider it. If you have a cat which is known to visit other people, ask them not to let the cat in or to touch it (you can put a paper collar on it with a message). Don’t interact with cats that are not your own. If you test positive and your cats go out, avoid close contact with it.
Remember too that cats groom themselves frequently and will remove any fomites from the coat in a way which dogs will not. Don’t be tempted to wipe your cat with antiseptic wipes because it will groom chemicals off its coat, and cats can be very sensitive to certain disinfectants which may make them unwell.
[Editor’s note – I added the word cat next to dog]
Yes, you can walk your dog/cat. Each person in the home can go out once a day to exercise, so each person could take the dog/cat for a walk. It’s important for their physical and mental health that they still get a daily walk, and short toilet breaks as necessary. But you will need to follow some simple rules:
Stay local – don’t go too far from home or drive further than is necessary.
Maintain social distance – this means keeping your dog/cat on a lead when around others to ensure you both stay at least two metres from other people and their pets.
Wash your hands thoroughly before you leave and as soon as you arrive home.
- I keep seeing mentions of ‘Feline Coronavirus or FCov. What is Feline Coronavirus or FCov and should I be worried about my cat getting it?
Feline Coronavirus or FCov is a common, contagious virus that can be found in the faeces of cats. It is not Covid 19 that we are dealing with now. It is more common in multi-cat households and does not affect other animals or people. It is caught by inadvertently swallowing the virus, through contact with other cats, litter trays or soil where other cats have toileted. Exposure to faeces in the litter tray is the most common means of transmission. Forty per cent or more of cats will be infected with the virus at some time in their lives and most owners will be unaware of it. Nearly every cat that encounters the virus will become infected and most will remain healthy and the majority will clear the virus themselves. To read more about Feline Coronavirus or FCov click HERE.
- What if my cat becomes ill during self isolation or lockdown?
If you think your cat needs veterinary care you should call the practice for further advice in the first instance. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless your vet instructs you to. Currently, cats should only be taken to the vet for emergency treatment. If you are self-isolating you may need to arrange for someone else to transport your cat for emergency treatment.
If you are self-isolating you will not be able to go to the vet with your cat for emergency treatment. Phone the vet for advice and if the vet agrees to treat your cat, you’ll need to arrange for someone else to transport your cat to the vet for you. In this case, we’d recommend the following tips:
- create a plan with your friend or family member for them to contact you by phone as they arrive at your home – that way, you can leave your cat in your carrier outside your door and they can approach at a safe distance
- your friend or family member might want to consider wearing gloves when they are handling the carrier and/or touching the cat
- they’ll need to practice good hygiene after handling your cat and cat carrier. Advise them to wash their hands with soap and hot water thoroughly – even if they have been wearing gloves
- Can I touch/stroke neighbours cats?
According to Cats Protection
Because of the possibility of COVID-19 transferring from an infected person to the fur of a cat and because so little is known about how long the virus might survive on the fur we advise against stroking or picking up strange cats (eg in the street) or allowing other people’s cats, stray or community cats into your house. We know that some cats do like to live in several households and ‘visit’ but not allowing them in during the current crisis will minimise any risks of cats helping to spread COVID-19.
- Can I still feed community cats and/or feral colonies?
According to Cats Protection
With the current restrictions on individual trips outside the house, any feeding of community, stray or feral colonies of cats could be incorporated into a daily walk for exercise if the cats live locally. If the cats are on your own land, eg they come into your garden, feeding can continue. In both cases take care to avoid any contact with the cats, such as stroking. In all cases ensure good hygiene, particularly washing your hands with soap and hot water.
- Can a cat pass Covid-19 to other pets?
According to Centres For Disease Control and Prevention
There is NO evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19.
I hope the above has helped to get the true facts around Coronavirus and what this means for our beloved pets. Use this lockdown period to spend quality time with your cat(s), who usually, for many of us, spend long hours alone whilst we work. Some may not want the extra attention so choose your playtime and stroking sessions with care and only if your cat approves!
Stay safe everyone. x
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita, a strong advocate of a vegan lifestyle, is based in London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Visit http://www.catbehaviourist.com.
Anita is currently conducting skype consultations ONLY.
Her debut book ‘Claws. Confessions Of A Professional Cat Groomer‘ is published by John Blakes.