07/04/2020 12:00 AM
Cat owners have been advised to be cautious about contact with their pets, after reports suggesting that cats are susceptible to coronavirus.
However, experts also stressed that owners should not worry unnecessarily.
In China, a small study has revealed that COVID-19 can be transmitted between cats. Five cats were inoculated with a high dose of the disease and three of them were placed in cages next to unaffected cats. One of the previously unaffected cats later tested positive for the virus, showing that it can be transmitted to other cats through respiratory droplets if they remain in close contact.
The findings followed reports of a cat contracting coronavirus in Belgium. The feline developed breathing difficulties about a week after its owner showed symptoms of the disease and the cat subsequently tested positive for coronavirus.
And this week there were reports of a tiger in a New York zoo that has tested positive for COVID-19.
Commenting on the New York case, Dr Rachael Tarlinton, Associate Professor of Veterinary Virology at the University of Nottingham, said: “It’s not entirely unexpected that big cats or other zoo species might be susceptible to picking up coronavirus infection from people. There have been a very small number of cases in domestic pets (cats and dogs) that have picked it up from their owners and one experimental study that hasn’t been reviewed yet that indicated that cats might be more susceptible to this.”
Dr Tarlinton added, however: “In none of these cases have the animals spread it to people, nor do animals get very ill themselves. It’s important to remember that the number of infected zoo and domestic animals so far has been really small, despite a lot of monitoring, and that there isn’t really any reason to think that pet dogs or cats should be treated any differently to any other family member right now.”
In an advice page on its website, Cats Protection also stressed that there is still no evidence that cats can transmit the virus to humans. As a precaution, the charity advised owners to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling their pet - and those infected with coronavirus should take particular care to minimise contact.
That message was echoed by the Royal Veterinary College, which said in a statement: “Similar to the recommendations to the human population designed to limit spread, basic hygiene measures should always be implemented. This includes hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.”
In homes where someone has COVID-19 symptoms or is classed as vulnerable, it’s recommended that cats should be kept indoors as much as possible.
Cat insurance from Purely Pets will help ensure your puss gets the treatment they need in the event of illness or injury. And for peace of mind, we offer a free 24-hour Vet Helpline for all policy holders.