It was confirmed this week that two domesticated cats had been infected with the coronavirus in the United States. Following early news reports of lions and tigers showing COVID-19 symptoms at a New York zoo, this is the first case of household pets testing positive for the illness. And although the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention emphasised that there is no evidence that companion animals play a role in spreading coronavirus, the news can be alarming to pet owners – and those with cats at home, in particular.
Preliminary research shows that cats are more prone to COVID-19 infection whereas other animals such as dogs, are far more resistant to the novel coronavirus. (That dog in Hong Kong that tested a "weak positive" was likely a passive carrier.) Although the reasons are still unclear, Dr. Zac Pilossoph, a veterinarian who consults with Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, talked to POPSUGAR about what this means for those with feline family members.
Can I Give My Cat COVID-19? Can My Cat Infect Me?
"We have no idea how successful this virus is at infecting cats, and whether the infection is travelling from cat to human, human to cat, or both," Pilossoph said. However, if you were to test positive for COVID-19, human-to-cat transmission is now suspected to be possible, "but it's rare," he added.
"Also, the virus appears to be less severe if a cat contracts COVID-19 from a human than in a human-to-human transmission," he said. "If infected, cats can then easily spread the virus to other cats the same way humans do, through respiratory droplets."
In the reverse, it is likely also possible for a cat to spread COVID-19 to a human, although to what effect is still unclear. "If a cat may have been exposed to an infected human, take the precautions of quarantining them, not handling the cat, and washing hands frequently."
What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19 in Cats?
At this point, it appears that house cats with COVID-19 developed a mild to moderate cough, potentially accompanied by an increased breathing rate or effort, but thankfully they have yet to show any significant signs of severe illness.
However, if your cat is experiencing respiratory issues, it's highly likely that these signs are due to one of the other primary reasons before COVID-19 that cats can develop respiratory system issues.
What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Has COVID-19?
If you suspect that your cat may have COVID-19, do not do anything that would compromise the welfare of the animal.
"It's important not to panic, be afraid, or get rid of them."
"It's important not to panic, be afraid, or get rid of them," Pilossoph said. "Instead, ask, 'Did my cat have an opportunity to be exposed to the coronavirus from other cats or humans?' For example, was it out on a porch where it could come across a neighbourhood outdoor cat or a feral cat? If the answer to that is no, the chances of your cat having COVID-19 are very low due to the disease almost always spreading through respiratory droplets in close quarters with another infected individual, or cat in this case."
If your cat is showing symptoms that are similar to the coronavirus, do not take them anywhere. Call your veterinarian or use a telehealth service to discuss these signs.
"Contact a veterinarian, so that all parties can remain calm and the most logical decisions can be made based on factual information," he said. "Allow them to determine if your cat is actually showing signs and if they should be tested. In the very rare case the vet is concerned, they will take the appropriate steps, which can include informing state officials and consulting on the proper steps of how to have your cat tested."
Should I Isolate My Cat?
If your cat is acting normal and has no symptoms, you should treat them as you normally do.
"This is the time to keep your cats closer than ever, not push them away," he said. If however, symptoms do present themselves, your vet may advise following basic isolation protocol. "Essentially, the same quarantine measures humans have been advised to follow should be implemented for cats as well."
How Can I Keep My Cat Safe From Contracting COVID-19?
The same distancing principles that humans follow should be applied to companion animals as well.
"All of the protective measures we are practicing right now, other than wearing a mask, can and should be applied to our domestic cats as well," he said.
He also advised: "Keep your pets away from animals or people outside of your home, keep an eye on your pet's behaviours, avoid any opportunities for exposure to respiratory secretions and, if you suspect they're showing symptoms, don't be afraid to pick up the phone and talk with your veterinarian."
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.