Ever since the beginning of the current pandemic the question has been on most pet owners minds: can domestic cats catch the coronavirus? Some worry whether they could get the virus from their felines, while others are scared their beloved cat might develop the terrible disease, either from them or other community animals.
To date, there is no definitive answer to this question, but the good news is that even if it might be possible for felines to get the new virus, the risks to them and their owners are minimal.
The alarm was raised in late February, after it was announced a dog in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus, sending shock-waves among pet owners throughout the world. It was later established the animal had contracted the disease from its owner.
Following this isolated incident, animal welfare activists cautioned against people panicking and abandoning or even killing their pets, pointing out the test was, in fact, a „weak positive” and not entirely reliable. It is well known that false positive or false negative results can occur when testing for COVID-19.
Another interesting development comes from Germany, where a virology expert conducting a study in the country’s worst-hit area, the city of Heisenberg, came to the conclusion pets pose no threat to their owners and apparently cannot spread the disease. Professor Hendrik Streeck said he found no traces of living virus on any surface in the homes of COVID-19 patients, including on animal fur.
Another story you might have heard is that of a tiger in a Bronx Zoo in New York City who was apparently infected with the coronavirus, developing a tell-tale dry cough. However, experts were quick to point out that while they are both felines, cats and tigers are completely different animals, so pet owners need not worry.
The issue remains far from being resolved. On April 9, the World Health Organization issued a statement that its experts were going to look into the findings of a recent study which concluded that some animals, cats included, might, in fact, get the coronavirus.
The study published by Science magazine was based on research conducted in China. Scientists were trying to identify which animals are vulnerable to the coronavirus, so they could be used for tests on a human vaccine.
According to this study, cats and ferrets were found to be highly susceptible to this virus, when the scientists tried to infect the animals by introducing viral particles via their noses. Oddly enough, dogs appeared to be less vulnerable, while pigs, ducks and chicken were not affected at all.
The study also found cats could infect one another by viral droplets.
One should keep in mind that the method used to purposefully infect the cats in the study, does not normally occur in real life, so the chances of your kitty getting the virus are quite small.
The study is still under review and, for the time being, the World Health Organization stands by its previous position, that pet owners or, indeed, members of the general public should not be concerned.
“We don’t believe that they are playing a role in transmission but we think that they may be able to be infected from an infected person”, the WHO’s top emergencies expert Mike Ryan said.
While we wait for the experts to make up their minds on the issue, there are a few sensible precautions every pet owner can take to keep their animals and themselves safe.
- If you are self-isolating at home or have COVID-19 symptoms, stay away from your cat as much as possible. Above all, refrain from petting them at this time, as you might inadvertently leave virus traces on their fur. That might pose a risk for other family members then touching the cat on the exact same spot. Even if the Germans are right and the virus doesn’t live on animal fur, you know the saying: Better safe than sorry!
- Make sure to wash your hands properly before handling their food or even the cat litter.
- If at all possible, during this period of uncertainty, keep the cat inside. Yet, bear in mind some animals are used to roaming around the house and forcing them to stay inside at all times might cause them unnecessary suffering.
- It might be a good idea to gently ask visitors or people in the neighborhood not to pet your cat.
However, if you’re feeling fine and are not particularly worried you might have the virus, there’s no need to break your routine. Let the cat sleep in your lap for as long as it wants and enjoy the company. We all need that at a time when we spend most of our time cooped up in our homes!