Cats and Coronavirus : Questions Answered

Many people are worried about coronavirus and their pets. The coronavirus in the news, more formally known as COVID-19, came to public notice in December 2019. It originated in Wuhan, China, and is believed to have started in open air food markets. The original species that carried the virus might have been the bat but the virus may have been transferred to some other species before humans became infected. This is a new virus and much is still unknown about it. If you have a cat (or more than one cat), you might be wondering if cats can transmit the virus or get it from you. Should you be worried about cats and coronavirus? We have the answers in our Frequently Asked Questions.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Cats and Coronavirus

Do cats get coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that can cause various diseases in humans and other animals. The MERS and SARS viruses a few years ago were both coronaviruses. There are other coronaviruses that affect animals.

There is a coronavirus that affects cats but it is a fairly common viral infection. Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) RT-PCR often has no symptoms or only causes diarrhea in cats. In some cases this feline coronavirus can lead to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Most cats recover from this feline coronavirus but some cats can have a persistent infection. Feline coronavirus can often be found in kittens. There is a test for (FCoV) RT-PCR. This form of feline coronavirus is not related to the human coronavirus that’s been in the news.

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There are also coronaviruses that affect dogs – both a respiratory form (no vaccine) and an enteric form that most often affects puppies (there is a vaccine). According to our research, the feline coronavirus that produces diarrhea is closely related to the canine coronavirus that produces diarrhea in puppies so there can be some cross reaction.

At this time there is no evidence that cats and dogs can pass along the coronavirus that’s been in the news.

Isn’t there a news story about a dog that has a “weak positive” for coronavirus?

There has been a news story from Hong Kong about a dog, owned by a person with coronavirus, that had a “weak positive” test for COVID-19. According to authorities in Hong Kong, the dog has no symptoms of the virus and they admit that it is unlikely the dog could transmit the virus to other humans or to other animals.

Some health authorities have suggested that the dog might have tested positive because it had the virus on its fur and other body parts, leaving traces of the virus from the owner.

At this time the Hong Kong authorities are still awaiting results from the dog’s bloodwork. Some scientists have criticized the Hong Kong authorities for making an announcement about the dog before they received the dog’s bloodwork.

No cats have tested positive for COVID-19. Veterinarians and other health officials emphasize that they do not believe that pets can pass COVID-19 to humans.

According to some reports, there were similar fears about cats spreading disease during the SARS virus outbreak in 2003. At that time a few cats did become infected with the virus, though they did not spread the disease. Some cats in China were killed at the time because of people’s fears about the virus.

Should I stay away from my cat if I’m worried about becoming infected?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

“While this virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person-to-person in China. There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus. To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19. However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after being around animals.”

In other words, there is absolutely no reason to stay away from your cat at this time.

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What should I do to avoid any possibility of transmitting the virus to or from my cat?

If you are sick with the COVID-19, the CDC says that you should restrict contact with your pet and with other animals while you are sick, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. If possible, have someone else in your home care for your cat while you are sick. If you are sick, avoid petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked by your cat, or sharing food with him/her. If you have to care for your cat yourself while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with him/her and wear a face mask.

Even if your pet does become infected with the virus, it doesn’t mean that s/he will be sick or will become capable of spreading the virus.

The coronavirus can only live for a short time (perhaps a few hours or days) on inanimate objects such as boxes or furniture, so it’s not surprising if the virus might live on your cat’s fur for a time. If you are concerned, consider using some safe sanitary wipes to gently wipe over your cat’s coat occasionally to remove any germs.

Should people turn in their cats to shelters if they are worried about pets spreading disease?

Definitely not! There is no reason to surrender or abandon your cat because of coronavirus. There is very little possibility of your cat becoming infected with COVID-19 or of spreading the virus. Even if your cat happens to become infected, there is no evidence that any cat has had symptoms of this new coronavirus or spread the illness.

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At this time all known coronavirus cases have been spread from person to person or possibly from touching surfaces that have the virus on them. There are absolutely no cases of people becoming sick from being around cats.

Are people in China killing pets because of the coronavirus?

We only found one report online about pets in one Chinese province being killed due to some misunderstanding of a statement from a Chinese health official about the virus. If this did happen, it appears that it was not widespread.

Should my cat wear a mask?

No one has recommended that any pets wear a facemask. Masks are only helpful for people who are infected with the virus since they are supposed to help prevent the virus from spreading from sneezing or coughing. They don’t prevent a human (or a pet) from catching the coronavirus.

There are some dogs in China wearing masks but this seems to be due to the owners’ panic or a misunderstanding about the use of the masks. The information we found said that some of the owners thought the masks would stop their dogs form licking or eating objects that might have the virus on them. That is not the purpose of the masks.

Keeping a mask on a cat would probably be nearly impossible anyway, as most cat lovers probably know.

Summary

Cats can become affected by a feline version of coronavirus but this virus has nothing to do with COVID-19, the virus that is currently in the news. There is no evidence that any cat has been infected with COVID-19 or that cats can spread this virus. Just to be safe, you should wash your hands with soap after interacting with your cat. Good hygiene is always a good idea with pets.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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