Should I be concerned about my cat getting COVID-19?

April 14th 2020

There have been some recent news reports about cats and tigers being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

A cat in Belgium was shown to have the virus after the family the cat lived with contracted COVID-19.

A tiger at the Bronx zoo also tested positive.  The tiger had a cough and decreased appetite and is presumed to have been infected by a caretaker who was infected, but asymptomatic. Three other tigers and three African lions also had a dry cough. All animals are expected to recover.
I am mentioning tigers here since they belong to the cat family, that are just a bit bigger and wilder than our domestic cats, and therefore a bit more challenging for vets to treat.

Understandably this has created some anxiety amongst our cat owners, but there is good reason to believe that cats will not increase the number of COVID-19 infections in humans.

Here is what we know to date based on recent research done at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China:

1. Cats can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 novel coronavirus.
2. Cats infected with the virus can spread the virus to other cats, but it doesn’t happen very readily or easily (dogs by the way can also get the virus but do not spread it to other dogs).

3. None of the cats that were experimentally infected showed any symptoms of illness.
4. As an interesting side note chickens, pigs and ducks do not seem susceptible to catching the virus.

5. There has been no evidence to suggest that infected cats can secrete sufficient coronavirus to infect a person.

6. In prior studies done during the SARS epidemic, a similar virus, there were no reported cases of SARS being transmitted from cats to humans.

7. To date, there have been no reported cases of cats spreading the virus to their owners or other people.

8. Given the number of COCID-19 cases in humans, the lack of any documented cases of COVID-19 being passed on from cats to humans should offer the needed comfort that our feline friends will not add to the human caseload.

What should I do as a cat owner if I have or suspect I have Covid-19 and am a cat-owner?

As a precaution the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with COVID-19 limit contact with their pets, including avoiding stroking them, being licked and sharing food.  The reasoning behind this is that the virus could indirectly be carried by the pet to a COVID-19 negative person. This is an unlikely scenario, but not impossible. The main source of transmission of the virus remains through human-to-human contact.

What are the signs my cat could have COVID-19?

In general cats exhibiting signs of a respiratory infection, just as sneezing, coughing or a decrease in appetite should be seen by a vet, regardless if they have been exposed to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 or not. Their illness is most likely unrelated and measures including giving up your animal would not be needed. The cat that tested positive for COVID-19 had diarrhea, was vomiting and showed respiratory symptoms.

What should I do if I suspect my cat has contracted COVID-19

There are currently no tests commercially available to test cats for COVID-19. Testing animals for COVID-19 is not recommended, as the virus is primarily transmitted person-to-person and not through animal contact.
However, any cat developing clinical signs should be seen by a vet to determine the nature of the illness and be treated accordingly.
During this time we are open for curbside pick-up for clinic visits, mobile visits in your home (after a screening shows it is safe) and over the phone for tele-vet medicine. We know this is such a stressful time and we want to ensure your pet’s health is not another stressor in your life. Please call our clinic at  403-615-8016  to talk to our staff about what is the best way our vets can see your pets.

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