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Coronavirus UK: Pet cat is first animal to be infected

A pet cat has become the first animal in the UK to be diagnosed with Covid-19, it was revealed today. 

Officials in believe the cat — which wasn’t identified — caught the coronavirus from its owners and ‘not the other way round’. 

Downing Street said the feline, from England, had shown respiratory symptoms  including shortness of breath.

Both the cat and its owners have made a full recovery and there was no transmission of the virus to other animals or people in the household, health bosses said. 

Experts have warned people to avoid cuddling their pets if they have the virus, but keep cats indoors so if they are infected, they can’t spread it to neighbours. 

It is not the first time an animal has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 in humans.  

The first dog in the world to catch coronavirus died after it was declared disease-free and returned home to its owner in Hong Kong.

The 17-year-old Pomeranian, whose owner caught Covid-19, had been quarantined at a government facility but returned home over the weekend.  

Health bosses believe the cat caught the coronavirus from its owners and ‘not the other way round’ (stock)

The cat was confirmed to have the virus after being tested at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratory in Weybridge last Wednesday. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The test was carried out by the Animal and Plant Health Agency laboratory having been referred by a private vet who the owners had taken the cat to see. 

‘Its symptoms were a respiratory infection with a nasal discharge and some shortness of breath.’  

Health officials said there is no evidence to suggest that the animal was involved in transmission of the disease to its owners.

And they added that there is also no proof that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the virus to people.

The advice from Public Health England is for people to wash their hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals. 

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: ‘Tests conducted by the Animal and Plant Health Agency have confirmed that the virus responsible for Covid-19 has been detected in a pet cat in England.

‘This is a very rare event with infected animals detected to date only showing mild clinical signs and recovering within in a few days.

Hongkonger Yvonne Chow Hau Yee, pictured in an undated photo, is the owner of the 17-year-old Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong that died after contracting the virus

Hongkonger Yvonne Chow Hau Yee, pictured in an undated photo, is the owner of the 17-year-old Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong that died after contracting the virus 

‘There is no evidence to suggest that pets directly transmit the virus to humans. We will continue to monitor this situation closely and will update our guidance to pet owners should the situation change.’

Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: ‘The pet cat was initially diagnosed by a private vet with feline herpes virus, a common cat respiratory infection, but the sample was also tested for SARS-CoV-2 as part of a research programme. 

‘Follow-up samples tested at the APHA laboratory in Weybridge confirmed the cat was also co-infected with SARS-CoV-2 which is the virus known to cause Covid-19 in humans.’  

The case has been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health in line with international commitments.  

Commenting on the case, Professor Jonathan Ball, molecular virology at University of Nottingham, said: ‘We know that domestic animals like cats and dogs can be infected with the SARS2 coronavirus, but the evidence suggests that the animals don’t get sick. 

‘They produce very low levels of virus, which is why we don’t think they can transmit the virus to humans. 

‘The best thing you can do to protect your pets, is to avoid close contact if you are, or think you might be, infected with the virus.’

Although there is no evidence so far that a human can catch the coronavirus from an infected pet, scientists have previously warned pets can carry the coronavirus on their fur, which risks spreading the disease from person to person.

An official report by the UK’s top vet said: ‘Close contact such as cuddling, grooming, feeding and allowing animals to share food could all allow the transfer of virus.’

It further stresses the importance of washing hands regularly during the pandemic. 

Experts said today that people with Covid-19 should keep their pets indoors to avoid their pat carrying viral particles round the neighbourhood.  

Daniella Dos Santos, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: ‘Our advice to pet owners who have Covid-19 or who are self-isolating with symptoms remains to restrict contact with their pets as a precautionary measure and to practise good hygiene, including regular handwashing.

‘We also recommend that owners who are confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19 should keep their cat indoors if possible, but only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors. Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.’ 

Pankaj KC, World Animal Protection head of programmes for animals in communities, said: ‘Pet owners with COVID-19 should avoid contact with your pet where possible and have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. 

‘If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.

‘If your animal does become sick go to the vets as normal.’ 

A team of scientists at the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) are screening hundreds of samples for Covid-19 infections in the UK cat population.

They have now completed a full genome sequencing of the virus found in the infected cat from England. 

Professor Margaret Hosie, who works on the project, said: ‘There have been sporadic reports of cats from COVID-19 households in Hong Kong, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the USA that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and were presumed to be infected from their owners, but this is the first report of an infected cat in the UK.’   

The first dog in the world to catch coronavirus in Hong Kong, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, died on March 16. 

It was declared disease-free and returned home to its owner, a 60-year-old woman who was hospitalised with Covid-19 the month prior, after being quarantined at a government facility.

The dog was never autopsied, and so the exact cause of death was not determined. 

The first confirmed case of a dog contracting the virus in the US was a German Shepherd in New York. It tested positive for the coronavirus in June, the US Department of Agriculture announced.

A cat from Belgium also tested positive for the virus in the early days of the pandemic, showing symptoms of the virus one week after the owner — who also tested positive — returned from Italy. 

Professor William Weir, of CVR, who helped diagnose the British cat, said: ‘At present, there is no evidence that cats, dogs or other domestic animals play any role in the epidemiology of human infections with SARS-CoV-2.’ 

He said the factors that govern why one species is susceptible to the Covid-19 virus while others are more resistant are currently unknown. 

Cats, ferrets and hamsters have been shown to be susceptible to the virus, whereas ducks, chickens and pigs appear not to be. 

‘Furthermore, the significance of SARS-CoV-2 as a feline or canine pathogen is unknown as cats and dogs with reported infections usually recover and there has been no evidence of transmission occurring between cats or dogs in the field,’ Professor Weird said.

CAN YOU CATCH COVID-19 FROM YOUR PET? 

A very small number of pets across the world that tested positive for Covid-19. Here are the most common questions: 

Can animals catch Covid-19?

The chance of your dog catching the COVID-19 strain is very slim according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Professor James Wood, Head of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Despite millions of people having had COVID19, the numbers of pets found to be ill or infected is still tiny. 

‘Put simply, our pet dogs and cats can catch COVID19 from us, when they are living with us, but only do on very rare occasions.’ 

Scientists say pets don’t appear to get very sick with Covid-19, and various pet organisations and charities say there is no need to be worried.

The first dog in the world to catch coronavirus died after it was declared disease-free and returned home to its owner in Hong Kong.

The owner of the 17-year-old Pomeranian, whose also had Covid-19, did not allow the dog to be autopsied, so the exact cause of death remains unknown.

 How do animals get infected?

Animals are likely to catch the virus the same way a human would — when respiratory droplets fall into the pets’ nose or mouth.

Professor James Wood, head of department of veterinary medicine, University of Cambridge, said: ‘Cats may become infected by the high doses of virus transmitted by their infected owners in some settings. 

‘The relative size of a cat versus a human means that there is far less exhaled breath from one cat in a house, compared to the exhaled breath volumes from a human patient. 

‘Further, the grooming behaviour of cats means that they are more likely to catch infection from an owner than vice versa.’

When pets have been reported to have the virus, they have signs that indicate a respiratory illness. 

Downing Street said the cat in England with the virus had symptoms of a respiratory infection with a nasal discharge and some shortness of breath.

Scientists have shown that cats, ferrets and hamsters are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. But ducks, chickens and pigs don’t appear to be.

Professor William Weir, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said ‘the significance of SARS-CoV-2 as a feline or canine pathogen is unknown’. 

He added that there have been no reports of cats passing the virus to dogs or vice versa. 

Can humans catch Covid-19 from animals?

There is no evidence that a human would catch the coronavirus from an animal in the same way as it would from another human.

Covid-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. 

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, said pets produce ‘very low levels of the virus’ compared to humans.

Professor James Wood, head of department of veterinary medicine, University of Cambridge, added that pets would exhale far less breath — which may have virus droplets inside — than humans.

In any case where a pet has tested positive for the virus, the owner reportedly had it first. 

The WHO says: ‘While there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19.’ 

Professor Weir said: ‘At present, there is no evidence that cats, dogs or other domestic animals play any role in the epidemiology of human infections with SARS-CoV-2.’ 

An official report by the UK’s top vet said household pets may carry the virus on their fur, which risks spreading the disease from person to person.

It said: ‘Close contact such as cuddling, grooming, feeding and allowing animals to share food could all allow the transfer of virus.’

The document, prepared by the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, was considered on April 30 at a meeting of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The report warned that the virus could survive on pet fur, meaning ‘there is a plausible pathway that the animal may act as a fomite [infectious object] for at least a few hours and transfer virus to others in the household.’ 

It added that pet owners who have symptoms to prevent their dog or cat from coming into contact with ‘susceptible humans’. 

How many pets have had the infection?

A very small number of pets have been reported to have the coronavirus in other countries in Europe, North America and Asia.

What precautions should I take when dealing with animals?

If you are sick with Covid-19, it is recommended you restrict contact with your dog and see if other people can look after them.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says: ‘It is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.’  

How to you stay safe around your pet: 

  • Wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies 
  • Practise good pet hygiene and clean up after pets properly 
  • Take pets to the vet regularly and talk to them if you have questions about your pet’s health 

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