As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, scientists around the world have been scrambling to define the key parameters of the disease—how the virus spreads, how long it incubates, and how best to screen patients. One of these factors is whether the virus can be transmitted between humans and animals, and from animal to animal.
In early April, a tiger tested positive for coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo in New York. And more recently, two cats from separate households were tested for the virus after exhibiting mild symptoms. These occurrences have triggered an avalanche of questions and concerns from zoo administrators and pet owners alike. However, the latest research suggests it is rare for companion animals to transmit Coronaviruses to humans.
Naturally, concerned pet parents want to know if their cats can contract COVID-19, and what they can do to prevent it. Here’s the latest information.
Can cats contract COVID-19?
A study published in the journal Science has found that while dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks do not have the proper receptors for hosting the disease, cats and ferrets are both potentially vulnerable to the disease. Anecdotal examples and clinical studies have shown that cats can contract the novel coronavirus, but the latest research shows it is rare because most animals are considered to be “dead-end hosts.”
Don’t panic. There’s some good news in the data. While cats and ferrets can catch the novel coronavirus, they are far from ideal hosts. Experimental animals that did test positive had been given high viral loads, administered directly via the nasal passages. The likelihood of a cat encountering such a concentrated exposure through casual contact with an infected person remains low.
Can cats transmit the virus to other cats?
Limited evidence from the study showed that, of three sets of COVID-positive cats whose cages were placed next to those of uninfected cats, only one of the uninfected cats contracted the disease. While this does point out another caution—that under the proper conditions, felines can transmit the coronavirus to each other—the sample size is extremely small.
Also, while the Science study shows that cats can be intentionally infected with the virus, it does not suggest that cats are a significant source of viral spread. In fact, from the perspective of the virus, cats are a far less ideal host for COVID-19 than are humans.
How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Pets?
In humans, COVID-19 is contagious through droplets of sputum and mucus that travel through the air via coughing, sneezing, or even just breathing. And while the virus is still less contagious than measles, the results of unprotected exposure can be deadly. COVID-19 is so dangerous to humans because the virus can easily bind to receptors within the human body. Without available or compatible receptors, the virus cannot take hold.
Since data is limited regarding the transmission of COVID-19 amongst cats, the current CDC guidelines for prevention include:
- Not letting companion animals interact with people or other animals outside the immediate household
- Keeping cats indoors—or maintaining at least six feet of distance from other people and animals to minimize contact
- Perform frequent hand-washing and wear masks and gloves when outdoors
- Disinfecting commonly touched surfaces with 70% or stronger alcohol solution or spray
- Limiting trips outdoors to essentials (groceries, pharmacy meds, etc.)
Currently, testing cats is not recommended—as there exists a shortage of tests for humans and getting your animal tested may not be possible in the immediate future. Again, there’s no need to panic: abide by the CDC guidelines and continue to check for updated information for pet owners.
Editor’s Note: With an overwhelming amount of information circulating daily on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it’s hard to determine what information is correct. For pet parents, we are proving the latest information on dogs and coronavirus.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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