I’m sure many of you have heard the news about the tiger that tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York.
As soon as I saw that news, I was alarmed, to say the least. I had no idea that felines were susceptible to this current brand of coronavirus.
So, I went on a research frenzy to find out everything there is to know about the relationship between cats and COVID-19.
Since I am stuck at home like I’m sure many of you are, I had plenty of time and energy(!) to delve into this topic.
I even had a chance to look at the relationship between COVID-19 and other animals.
Here are all the facts that I’ve gathered and condensed from this research up till now.
You will also find below some precautions that you may take to eliminate any risks regarding the safety of your cat from this pandemic.
Cats and Covid-19
COVID-19 is commonly referred to as “coronavirus” on social media and some news outlets, however, this name can be misleading because there are many types of coronavirus.
The virus responsible for the current pandemic at hand is officially named SARS-CoV-2.
SARS-CoV-2 is an acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus – 2. You may remember the original SARS-CoV epidemic from 2002.
I will use the name COVID-19 throughout this article to keep it simple and to distinguish the current pandemic from the general coronavirus.
So, what is the deal between felines and this new brand of the coronavirus?
As you may have heard or read somewhere, the source of COVID-19 is an animal, although it is not a hundred percent certain which animal it is. The most likely culprit is the bat, but the general consensus among scientists is that the virus moved from the source animal to another intermediary animal before passing on to humans. The Wuhan live-animal market in China is likely to be the source where this jump to humans occurred.
The point of this origin story is that the coronavirus is capable of passing in between species. As we have seen with the tiger at the Bronx zoo, it has also transferred to a feline.
Back in 2002, studies had shown that cats could get infected by and pass on the virus in between themselves in the first SARS-CoV outbreak.
Since the current COVID-19 is a genetically similar virus, it is quite possible that the case for cats may be the same. However, we do not know for sure at this moment.
The Harbin Veterinary Research Study
A recent study by Harbin Veterinary research in China has shown that cats can, in fact, get infected by Covid-19. but, please keep in mind that this study is very recent and has not yet been thoroughly examined by the scientific community.
The Harbin study exposed five cats to the virus first, and then put them in contact with uninfected cats.
All cats were infected by the virus, as the RNA of the virus was found in their tonsils, tracheas, and nasal passages, as well as their feces. This suggests that cats can pass the virus amongst each other by respiratory droplets.
A second study was repeated with younger cats, and this revealed that younger cats were more susceptible to the virus.
Keep in mind that this study was done on a very small number of animals. So it cannot be conclusive and yield dependable results.
Another disclaimer about studies such as the Harbin one is that experimental conditions for infection can differ from real-life conditions for infection. This means that although cats may infect each other in an experiment, this might not be the case in real-life situations.
Since the Harbin study is one of the few studies done on animals and COVID-19, I will be referring to it a couple of times in the remainder of this article. But please keep in mind the disclaimers I’ve mentioned above when you read about the findings of this study.
Perhaps the most shocking case has been the tiger that tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York.
The 4-year-old Malaysian tiger showed symptoms of coughing and a loss in appetite. Six other large cats in the zoo also showed similar symptoms. They are suspected of having been exposed to the virus through their carer who had recently tested positive for the virus. As of now, the cats are recovering fine and all have had mild symptoms.
There has been an isolated case where a cat in Belgium showed symptoms of the virus a week after the owner of the cat had tested positive for the virus. The cat had diarrhea, difficulty breathing and nausea. Her litter and vomit tested positive for the virus, but the cat herself was not examined by a vet. She was kept in quarantine and has since recovered.
There has been a report of another pet cat that tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong. The cat showed no symptoms but was tested positive after her owner was diagnosed with the virus.
So we have three inconclusive, isolated incidents at hand.
Even if cats can become infected, there is almost no information on how the virus will typically affect them.
We do not know if it can be fatal, if their symptoms will be the same as ours, or if they will have higher or lower recovery rates when compared to humans.
Can My Cat Get Covid-19 From Me?
I’m sure the nagging question on your mind if you have a cat, is if there is a chance you might infect her if you get infected yourself.
Well, the three cases that I’ve mentioned above seem to indicate that this may be possible.
The tiger at the Bronx zoo started showing symptoms after her carer had been tested positive, and both the Belgian and Chinese cats got sick after their owners tested positive. But remember – these are just three cases!
The Harbin Veterinary Research study I’ve mentioned previously has also shown that cats can get infected from other cats that have the virus.
To conclude, it is very hard to say with complete conviction that cats will get infected from contact with infected people. However, there have been a few cases I’ve mentioned above that show that this might be possible.
What we can be a bit more certain about is that there is a possibility cats can get infected from contact with other infected cats.
Can I Get Covid-19 From My Cat?
At this point in time (April 14, 2020), no study has shown that infected cats (or dogs) can infect a person with COVID-19. although it can transfer from people to cats, the opposite has not been observed to be the case.
You cannot get the virus from contact with an infected cat or dog, you may be exposed to the virus if a cat or dog carries it on their fur or paws from an infected source.
If you have a strictly indoor cat, there is no way that she can get the virus unless it’s from you or other people living with you. Since your cat doesn’t go out, she cannot be exposed to outside factors.
However, if your cat likes to go outside, the virus can land on her fur or paws. Of course, it makes a difference whether your cat only spends time at your private backyard or she has access to public areas like streets, shared gardens, parks, courtyards, etc.
If your cat likes to go to these public spaces, even if she does not get infected, she may carry the virus indoors physically. Although it is almost impossible to pick up a virus from your cat’s fur by simple petting, closer contact may increase this risk.
Therefore, maintaining hygiene and some distance when dealing with your cat is key.
Precautions for Indoor Cats
Indoor cats are highly unlikely to be at risk unless you or someone living with you is infected.
Other than that, they will most likely not be exposed to the virus. Although you or people living with you may not be showing symptoms of the virus, still pay attention to the precautions below to avoid any risks in your cat’s safety.
If you are infected, it’s a wise idea to keep yourself away from your cat. Even if you do not think you are infected, it’s still a good idea to keep some distance, because you may not know that you may be carrying the virus.
If you are infected or suspect that you might be, have another person take care of your cat if you can. If this isn’t possible, then be very careful to keep as much of a distance as possible from your cat when you are dealing with her in general.
Please pay very close attention to these precautions:
- Avoid close contact like petting, having them lick your hands and face, sleeping together in a small and closed space, sharing food, etc.
- Wash your hands before and after you have contact with your cat or items that she has contact with like her food and water dish, toys, litterbox, etc.
- Don’t share food plates or utensils with your cat without washing them in between.
- You should wear a mask when you are forced to be in very close contact with your cat.
Keeping some distance from your cat is also important because if you are living with people, the cat may act as a transfer surface for the virus. If you or someone in your house is infected, close contact with the cat may leave the virus on her fur.
Think of it as sharing a face towel or an eating utensil with an infected person. We all kiss and cuddle our cat, and if someone infected is also doing these things with the same cat, there is a very high chance for infection.
One very important thing to keep in mind is to make sure you have a plan in place in the event that you get infected and need to self-quarantine or stay at a hospital.
If you live alone, you should appoint someone to take care of your cat in the event that you may not be able to do so.
Precautions for Outdoor Cats
I would strongly recommend that you try and keep your cat indoors for the duration of this pandemic. I know it might be hard to keep your cat inside when she desperately wants to go out, but keep in mind that it is for her own safety as well as yours.
It is fine for your cat to go outside if she is limited to a private backyard where there are no other people or cats (remember – cats can infect other cats.) However, a public space like a street or park could possibly expose your cat to the virus.
As I’ve mentioned before, even if she is not infected, she may carry the virus on her fur or paws. It’s a very small possibility, but you should still be aware of the risk.
If you can’t keep your cat inside, then here are a few things you can pay attention to.
First of all, every precaution I’ve mentioned above for indoor cats is also essential for outdoor cats, in fact, even more so! So, keep your distance, wash your hands before and after contact, and do not share anything.
In addition to these basics, you can pay some attention to your cat’s paw and fur hygiene if she spends a lot of time in outdoor public spaces.
We do not know for certain how long the virus can stay on a cat’s fur or paws.
We also can’t be sure how probable it is for your cat to end up with virus on her. This seems highly unlikely because an infected person would have to cough or sneeze on your cat, or your cat would have to find a surface with the virus on it and roll on it or something.
Studies have also shown that smooth surfaces can transfer the virus better than porous, dented surfaces. This is because it is easier to pick up the virus from a smooth place. This would mean that it would be a lot harder for you to pick up the virus from a surface like animal fur.
So, there is no evidence as of yet to support the fact that you can pick up the virus that may be on your cat’s fur by simply petting your cat.
However, a closer and increased amount of contact like kissing and cuddling your cat frequently may increase the chance of you picking up the virus that may be on her fur.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should soak your cat in disinfectant. Please be reasonable and watch out for the safety of your cat.
Anti-bacterial soaps and strong disinfectants can be extremely harmful to your cat. You may clean your cat’s paws and fur with mild soap and make sure to rinse completely. This can be fragrance-free soap for babies or soap that is specific for cats that you can purchase at your vet. You can consult your vet when choosing this kind of soap.
You do not need to clean your cat’s fur each time she goes out. It would just be simpler to avoid close contact with your cat for about a day after she’s been out.
Remember – it is already quite a slim chance for your cat to be carrying the virus on her, and it is also quite difficult for you to pick it up by petting. If you just wash your hands after petting her and refrain from kissing and cuddling, there is no need to subject your cat to washing.
If your cat has been out in a public place for a long time, arrives completely dirty, and you are extremely worried that she may have been exposed to infected people or surfaces, then you can consider cleaning your cat’s fur and paws gently with soap.
Don’t forget that cats are very clean animals and they lick themselves frequently. So anything that you put on your cat’s body is likely to end up in her mouth. Using strong disinfectants is very dangerous because of this reason, but also because your cat may have possible reactions to it such as skin rashes, allergies, dandruff, etc.
By the way – when you are trying to clean your cat, you may end up having closer contact than you would if you just let her be. So again, washing your cat may prove to be riskier than just letting her be a bit dirty for a day.
Washing your cat frequently is not advised, so limiting your cat’s outdoor activities or just washing your hands after you have contact with her are better precautions in keeping her and yourself safe from the virus.
How Might Covid-19 Affect My Cat?
I’ve laid out some questions that fellow cat lovers like myself may be wondering. I’ve tried to provide the most accurate answers for them with the information we have so far.
What Can Be the Symptoms of Covid-19 Infection in Cats?
As I have explained, although there is a possibility that cats may be infected by COVID-19, there haven’t been enough cases and research to derive a reliable checklist for all the possible symptoms in cats.
However, from the cases we have seen up till now, it is possible to say that signs of a COVID-19 infection in cats may include:
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms may vary both in type and in severity from cat to cat.
As you may remember, the cat from Belgium that tested positive showed symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, and difficulties in breathing, meanwhile the tiger at the Bronx Zoo mainly had a dry cough and a loss of appetite.
What Can You Do if You Observe Symptoms of Covid-19 Infection in Your Cat?
First of all, if you have been tested positive for the virus or suspect that you may be infected, you should also observe your cat for any symptoms (without getting physically close of course.) Observe their litter, food dish and their general level of activity meticulously.
If you do see one, all, or a combination of the symptoms I’ve mentioned above, then you should contact your vet via phone and report your observations in much detail as possible. Your vet will guide you on your next steps. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they might recommend at-home nursing, or call your cat in for further inspection and possible testing.
Meanwhile, if you have more than one cat or another pet, try to keep them and their items such as food dishes and litterboxes separate from each other if you suspect infection in one or more of them. You can also keep their food and water bowls, litters, and sleeping arrangements apart as a preventative measure.
Is There a Test for Covid-19 in Cats?
There is a test for COVID-19 available for felines (and canines), developed by IDEXX Reference Laboratories in March.
Since then, IDEXX has actually tested over four thousand pets in the US and South Korea for the virus and have not found a positive case.
If you want to have your cat tested, it is not an easy task though. Testing of companion animals like cats and dogs requires a certain procedure. You can’t just go to your vet and get a test done out of the blue.
The exact details of the procedure depend on where you live, but the general idea is that veterinary clinics must apply to government health officials (local, state or federal officials for the US) with a list of symptoms and justified causes for suspicion such as whether or not the owner is infected.
If the application is approved, then testing is done and the health officials are notified of the results. Positive results are tracked and further measures may be taken.
Is There a Treatment for Covid-19 in Cats?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for COVID-19 in cats currently, just like there isn’t one for humans or any other animals.
If your cat shows symptoms of the virus, contact your vet immediately and follow their instructions. Unless it is a very severe case that needs medical attention at the clinic, they may suggest at-home nursing aided by medicine that might help relieve the symptoms.
Other than that, the best way to deal with a mild infection is to keep caring for your cat by providing her with a healthy diet, plenty of water, and just having her rest as much as possible.
Since we do not know much about the effects of the virus in cats, all we can do is nurse them as well as we can like we would with any other cold-like sickness.
This is also the recommended way of dealing with people showing mild symptoms of the virus. If a person does not have severe breathing problems, the best thing for them is to rest as much as possible and maintain a healthy diet with lots of liquids.
Other Animals and Covid-19
The study from Harbin Veterinary Research claims that among animals that live in close proximity to humans (as pets or livestock), ferrets and cats are the most likely to get infected by the coronavirus. Dogs are also susceptible, but the virus is not as efficient in copying itself as it is in cats and ferrets, and when infected, dogs have milder symptoms.
If you have a dog, you should still be extra cautious during this time. You do not need to stop walking your dog, but experts say that you should keep it at a minimum. Do it once a day and try to avoid crowded paths and other dogs.
As of now, there have been two cases of dogs testing positive for COVID-19. Both are pet dogs that most likely have caught the virus from their infected owners.
Ferrets are used for COVID-19 vaccine research because their respiratory tract is actually very similar to humans. They are often used in experiments that deal with human respiratory viruses. Ferrets are found to be susceptible to COVID-19 and pass it among each other.
The Harbin study has also found that other animals that humans may live in close proximity to like pigs, chickens, and ducks are not receptive to the virus.
Currently, the main source of the spread of COVID-19 is in between humans, and animals do not play a role in the spread of this pandemic.
Coronavirus in Cats and Dogs
The coronavirus is a virus classification that attacks an organism’s respiratory system and typically causes fever and gastrointestinal issues. There are as many as hundreds of versions of the coronavirus, but only a handful of them are known to be able to transfer to humans (one of which is the novel COVID-19.)
So, the vast majority of coronaviruses actually infect animals and are usually species-specific.
Unfortunately, coronavirus brands specific to our dearest cats and dogs have existed for quite a number of years.
Feline Coronavirus (Fcov)
Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) is usually an infection without symptoms.
Cats can be carriers and the virus is transferred to other cats via their feces. This largely asymptomatic version of the feline coronavirus is named the Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV).
When a lot of cats are infected, the virus can mutate to become the fatal version of the virus, which is called the Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus (FIPV). This virus causes Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), which is an incurable and fatal disease.
A cat infected with FIPV will usually have an accumulation of fluid in their chest and abdomen, which will cause respiratory problems. There might also be other symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, and fever. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for FIP other than nursing for comfort.
There is a vaccine to prevent feline coronavirus, but its efficiency is undetermined because experiments have not yielded consistent and conclusive results. The vaccine is available only in the US, Canada, and Europe, it is not administered to kittens, and it does not work on an already infected cat.
The most effective method of preventing FIP is to minimize the chance of feline coronavirus infection. If you have multiple cats, it is a good idea to keep their litters separate and of course, very clean. If there is a new cat arriving at your house, keep her litterbox separate from the others.
The feline coronavirus cannot pass on to humans or other species.
Remember, most cases of feline coronavirus have very mild symptoms, so there is no need to worry. You may think of it like the common cold for cats. The same goes for dogs:
Canine Coronavirus (Ccov)
Canine Coronavirus (CCoV) belongs to the same family of the coronavirus as the feline coronavirus.
The most common strain of this coronavirus is the Canine Enteric Coronavirus (CCV). It is extremely contagious among dogs and affects their intestines. Although infection is commonly asymptomatic and mild, some cases can show more serious symptoms and a small number can become fatal. The most common symptom is diarrhea.
There is a vaccine for the prevention of CCV but is not commonly used because most dogs are not exposed to the virus. Infection occurs when there are a number of dogs sharing space in less than ideal conditions like kennels. Also, CCV usually has zero or very mild symptoms and it is deemed better by experts to just leave it be rather than administring the existing vaccination.
There is a second strain of the canine coronavirus called the Canine Respiratory Coronavirus (CRCoV). As the name suggests, this strain affects the respiratory tracts of dogs. This strain of the virus is similar to the common cold for humans. Dogs will typically show mild symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, and runny noses.
There is no vaccine for it, but it is not really necessary anyway.
It was kind of hard to write about this topic because everything is so uncertain at the moment.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to get more information about animals and COVID-19 in the upcoming weeks.
Before I wrap up, I would just like to underline this one more time: the COVID-19 pandemic is primarily spread by contact between people. cats, dogs, and other animals have no role in spreading this pandemic. You cannot get infected with the virus through your cat!
I know that the current circumstances can be overwhelming and draining on us and our pets.
I keep on worrying about something serious happening to my cat (not necessarily virus-related) and that I will not be able to get her the help she needs. But I calm myself down because panic and anticipation of bad things only make things worse.
If you are prone to worrying like me, remember that veterinarian clinics are still open during this time of quarantine. So if you have any worries about any medical issue, you can contact your vet by phone. There may be limitations on less immediate procedures and cases, but they will still guide you as best they can.
If you are worried about your cat getting infected, let me just remind you once again that this is highly unlikely – especially if you pay attention to the precautions I’ve laid out above.
I wish both you and your cat safe and healthy days during this difficult time!