Can Cats Get Coronavirus? – An Important Update
Not long ago, a single dog tested positive for coronavirus. I wrote about that in this blog post, Can Cats and Dogs Get Coronavirus?
There is new information that is worth sharing here, but a statement from that first blog post, from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, still stands, “At this time there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19.”
So, what is new regarding cats and coronavirus?
There is a new study about cats and coronavirus that was conducted by Chinese scientists. Importantly, this study has not yet been peer-reviewed. Why is peer-reviewing an important part of determining the value of a study? Peer reviewing means that a study has been scrutinized by other experts. The peer-review process holds research to a higher standard, and generally prevents research that contains “unwarranted claims” and “unacceptable interpretations” from being disseminated to the public.
So, this particular research was conducted in China and it has not been peer reviewed. That is worth keeping in mind as you think about the conclusions of this particular study.
What exactly were the conclusions of this study?
In this study, the scientists claimed that cats could get coronavirus and they could pass it to other cats, but importantly,
How did the cats catch coronavirus?
They didn’t “catch” coronavirus at all. Scientists forced very, very high doses of the virus into their nostrils. This is not how viruses are spread in real life. The extraordinary amount of virus that these cats were given was not the amount that they would be exposed to in real life either. In other words, this study created a very artificial set of circumstances.
Scientists then put some of the infected cats into cages next to uninfected cats. One of the formerly uninfected cats ended up testing positive for the virus, which suggests that cats actually can pass this disease to one another.
Did the cats with coronavirus get sick?
No. None of the cats artificially infected with coronavirus showed any signs of being ill and they did not die from coronavirus.
This happened once before, during the SARS outbreak in 2003
SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is also a type of coronavirus. During the 2003 pandemic, scientists conducted similar research to determine whether pets could catch SARS. One experiment showed that cats and ferrets could contract SARS from people and transmit it to others of their kind. The researchers at the time did not comment on whether cats could pass the virus back to humans.
So, this current study about the novel coronavirus is in keeping with knowledge gained previously about another type of coronavirus.
Have any cats caught coronavirus naturally?
It appears that a single cat may have caught COVID-19 from her owner, who was sick with the disease. The cat had evidence of the virus in her vomit and feces. She did come down with a respiratory illness, but researchers aren’t sure whether that was just a coincidence. In other words, the cat had respiratory symptoms, but it might have been from something else, not COVID-19.
There is actually now a second case of a dog in Hong Kong who became infected with the disease. But, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says, “there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.”
While this statement sounds like it contradicts the conclusion of the Chinese study, it does not. Remember that in the Chinese study, cats contracted the disease under very artificial conditions in a laboratory. The AVMA statement is referring to how the virus appears, at this time, to behave in real life.
How to care for your pets if you are positive for coronavirus
Both the Centers for Disease Control and the AVMA recommend that anyone who is sick with COVID-19 limit contact with their pets until we know more.
Although there is no evidence that you will make your beloved pets sick if you care for them while you have symptoms, it’s better to let someone else handle feeding and litter-box cleanings until we have more information about this new virus. If you are sick and you are the only one who can care for your pet, or if you have a service animal, wear a face mask, avoid hugging and kissing your pet, and wash hands before and after touching them.