Cat owners don’t have to keep their pets indoors during lockdown and are advised to do so only if they are self-isolating or in a household with symptoms.
Cats can carry the coronavirus on their fur, making them as much as a risk to humans as other high-contact physical objects like doorknobs, the British Veterinary Association has said.
The UK’s national body for veterinary surgeons reiterated that it is not asking all cat owners to keep their animals indoors, as implied by previous media reports.
This advice only applies to cats in infected households or where people are self-isolating, as opposed to just following the government lockdown – and only if the cat is ‘happy’ to do so.
BVA admitted that there have been a small number of cases of cats having COVID-19, but in those instances it was likely the humans had infected the cats.
Cats are capable of transmitting the coronavirus between themselves, a study in China has found. Picture: A cat relaxes outside Moscow apartments being disinfected
BVA and other veterinary experts are keen to outline the distinction between cats carrying the virus on their fur, as opposed to being infected or showing symptoms themselves.
‘It is very important that people don’t panic about their pets,’ said British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Daniella Dos Santos.
‘We are not advising that all cats are kept indoors – only cats from infected households or where their owners are self-isolating, and only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors.’
Dos Santos said there is no evidence that pets can pass COVID-19 to their owners – humans pose more of a risk to cats than the other way round.
‘There have been a tiny number of cases of COVID-19 in animals and in all cases, it is likely that the transmission was human to animal,’ she said.
Dr Alan Radford, Professor of Animal Health Surveillance at the University of Liverpool, said humans potentially pose a risk to cats.
‘Firstly, they might put virus on a pet, just as you might do to your phone or a door handle,’ he told MailOnline.
‘Secondly, there is growing evidence that some animals – cats, ferrets and to a lesser extent dogs – can be infected.
‘Currently we believe infection to be rare, and like people, most animals seem to have mild or inapparent signs.’
Cats from infected households can, however, carry the virus on their fur, through microscopic droplets that have been coughed or sneezed out by their human owner.
If let out the house, these pets can pose a risk to people in the neighbourhood who are on their daily exercise allowance and may touch the cat in the street.
However, some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons, which is why the BVA is saying even those from infected households should be let out if absolutely necessary.
Therefore, best practices are to avoid touching cat strangers, and, if one does so accidentally, to maintain good hygiene as per the NHS’s official advice – wash hands thoroughly and use hand sanitiser.
The same applies to people in non-infected households who have a cat that it still coming in and out during lockdown – as well as any pet.
‘Animals can act as fomites, as the virus could be on their fur in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs,’ Dos Santos said.
Cats and ferrets can be infected with coronavirus but it is hard for dogs to catch the disease, scientists have discovered (stock image)
‘Avoid unnecessary contact with your pets, such a hugging or allowing them to lick your face, and do not touch other people’s dogs when on walks,’ she said.
Professor Ken Smith, professor of companion animal pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, said that to avoid spread of infection from humans to animals, contact between infected people and other animals should be minimised.
‘If cats are present within a COVID-19 positive household, they should be kept indoors,’ he said.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has previously noted that there is no evidence to suggest that household pets are capable of carrying and spreading the disease in the way that humans do.
However, it has advised those infected with the coronavirus to limit their contact with their pets until they have fully recovered as a precaution.
Conclusions on whether cats, dogs and other domestic pets can get COVID-19 is mixed, but consensus is that they don’t pose more of a risk to us than another human.
‘Based on current evidence, the vast majority of individuals that get COVID will likely unfortunately be people, and the vast majority of us that get it will likely get it form other humans,’ Dr Radford said.
Steve Dunham, Associate Professor of Veterinary Virology at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘Given that we have very few reports of cats becoming infected – and lots of reports of negative tests in cats – this will only happen in very few animals.
‘It’s important to remember that this is primarily a human virus – and the greatest risk of human infection is from other people with COVID-19.
‘We still don’t know if cats shed enough virus to infect humans or other cats.
Professor Dunham told MailOnline that we should be washing our hands before feeding our cats and avoid coughing or sneezing on their food bowls, which we should also clean regularly with washing up liquid to kill any virus.
‘It would be sensible to minimise contact if possible, although cats can be a great comfort to their owners during social isolation so there needs to be a sensible balance,’ he added.
‘Cats and dogs are in close contact with humans and therefore it is important to understand their susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 for COVID-19 control,’ the researchers wrote in their paper
In a recent research paper, Dr Angel Almendros from City University in Hong Kong disputed the theory that cats or dogs can show COVID-19 symptoms.
Dr Almendros detailed experiments on a 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong in the journal Vet Record, whose owner had tested positive for COVID-19.
The dog passed away following rigorous lab tests, but showed no suggestion that it was contagious to other pets or people.
‘As in the previous SARS-CoV outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003, where a number of pets were infected but never became sick, there is no evidence that dogs or cats could become sick or infect people,’ he said.
Conversely, Belgian authorities said last month that a woman had infected her cat with the virus.
Steven van Gucht, head of viral diseases at the country’s Institute of Health, told a press conference that ‘a coronavirus infection has been determined in a cat’.
‘The cat lived with her owner, who started showing symptoms of the virus a week before the cat did,’ he said.
The Belgian case is the first report of a cat being infected with the new coronavirus, although officials in Hong Kong say two dogs have caught the virus there.
A recent study in China suggests cats are capable of transmitting the coronavirus to other cats.
The study, undertaken by researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China, concluded that cats are highly vulnerable to the virus.
The lab discovered that the animals can transmit the disease to other cats through respiratory droplets.
The findings followed four isolated cases of pets being infected with the coronavirus, including two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium.
Another team said cats and ferrets can be infected with coronavirus and spread it to other animals, but it is hard for dogs to catch the disease.
HOW SHOULD WE INTERACT WITH OUR PETS DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC?
Dr Alan Radford, Professor of Animal Health Surveillance at the University of Liverpool, said we should sensibly make some small changes to our behaviour with our pets.
Pets including cats and dogs should be treated as a part of our household group and has listed the following advice for the benefit of both the pet and owner:
– If possible get others in the household without symptoms of signs of COVID-19 to take over day to day care of pets.
– Reduce contact with pets and wash hands before and after any contact.
– Avoid face contact (such as licking). Some suggest wearing a face mask to further reduce risk.
– Keep cats indoors if possible for the period of household self-isolation. (British Veterinary notes that this should be observed only if the cat is happy to stay in, as some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical conditions.)
– If this cat is outdoors, whether or not the cat is from a household with peole showing COVID-19 symptoms, owners should advise neighbours not to touch them.
– Walk dogs according to govt exercise rules – meaning they should be kept on a lead, walked locally and if possible at a quiet time to maintain the recommended two-metre distance.
– Keep at least 2 metres away from other people and animals and DO NOT let anyone touch the dog.
-Alternatively, you might consider asking a friend or neighbour to exercise the dog as part of their once-a-day exercise.
– If the neighbours agrees to do that and they know you have symptoms or are infected, message them to say your dog is likely to have virus on it.
– If they agree to walk the dog, they should not come into your house, wear gloves if possible, and as a minimum wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
– They should interact as little as possible with the dog during the walk.
– For those without COVID-19 signs we can carry on interacting with pets that are part of our own household group, but should avoid all but necessary contact with animals from outside our household group.
– For many of us, pets are an important part of our family group, and will make periods of self isolation more tolerable.