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expert reaction to a pet cat in the UK testing positive for SARS-CoV-2

There have been articles and press releases which report a domestic cat in the UK has tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

 

Dr Jenny Stavisky, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham, said:

What evidence do we have about the incidence/transmission of COVID-19 in animals/pets?

“It seems some pets can (rarely) get infected with Covid from people. We’re looking for evidence of that now, which is why the sample was taken, but so far, it seems an extremely rare event.

What the risk is to animals from SARS-CoV-2?

“In pet species, risk so far seems low. Some species do seem susceptible, hence the mass slaughter of mink in fur farms in the Netherlands.

How could this cat have caught the virus?

“It’s likely the cat caught it the same way we do, from close contact including aerosol, from an infected person or people. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of pets tested which have been living with infected people have in fact tested negative, suggesting it might be quite hard for cats and dogs to catch this virus.

Is there a risk of them passing it on to other pets/owners?

“So far there has been no documented transmission of Covid-19 from cats/ dogs to humans, if it does occur it’s likely to be a very rare event, on the evidence we have now. It is possible that the virus could be transmitted on the pet, just like any other surface, eg if an infected person were to cough on the animal and someone then stroked the contaminated fur then put their hand in their mouth, infection could in theory be transmitted. Good hygiene is important around our pets anyway, as they can carry other pathogens which could be harmful to people. So, avoid licking/ kissing faces, and wash your hands after petting your animal, and especially before eating or cooking.

Should pet owners be concerned?

“Not at this point! Our knowledge and understanding of this disease are growing all the time, but so far, having a pet seems to be much more of a positive than an negative factor, for some research has shown that owning a dog may have been associated with better mental health during lockdown https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32701015/

Other comments

“Please do not try to put a mask on your dog or cat, they are likely to find it scary. It may, however, be a good idea to try to gently acclimatise your pet to seeing people wearing masks so that out on walks, or at other places such as the vet’s surgery, they don’t get frightened – masks are likely to be part of life for a while now.

“There is an excellent explanation and infographic here: https://www.icam-coalition.org/infected-not-infectious-how-dogs-and-cats-have-become-the-victims-of-covid-19/

 

Prof Alan Radford, Professor in Veterinary Health Informatics, University of Liverpool, said:

“Cats (and dogs) testing positive for COVID-19 is not surprising. There are both sporadic reports in other countries and also some experimental evidence to support this. The most likely source of infection to a pet in the UK would be its owners, although it is also possible they could have picked it up from another animal, as the same experiments that showed infection, have also shown cats can transmit the virus to contact cats.

“One of the challenges of positive PCR tests is knowing if an animal is actually infected or simply has virus on them (in the same way an inanimate object might). Our own work in pre-print1, uses antibody testing, which is more specific for infection, and shows that up to 5% of pet animals living in areas where COVID-19 is common in people (our study was using samples from pets in Italy at the height of the pandemic there), test positive for antibodies and so are likely to be currently infected, or to have been infected at some point.

“So infection is possible in pets, but probably rare. That said, if we have COVID-19 ourselves, we should reduce contact with pets as much as possible and keep cats indoors if they’re happy to do so.  As for risk to people, all evidence to date suggests that the vast majority of people that get COVID-19 get it from direct interactions with other people, and that is why social distancing remains a key control strategy. As for pets, we should consider them part of our household and treat other peoples’ pets in the same way we would those people.

“There is very good advice for owners and vets on the British Veterinary Association Website: https://www.bva.co.uk/coronavirus

1. https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/savsnet/news/stories/title,1215594,en.html

 

Prof James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, said:

“It is very interesting to hear of the cat that has been found to be mildly infected following positive COVID-19 diagnoses in its owner. It has been clear for while that cats are susceptible to infection but there is no evidence that they can go on to infect humans. A handful of pets in contact with infected human owners have been found to be infected around the world. The data overall continue to suggest that cats may become infected by their owners if their owners have COVID19, but there is no suggestion that they may transmit it to owners. This reflects the advice that if possible, when infected, owners should keep their cats inside.

“The work reflects excellent close working between APHA laboratories and private veterinary laboratories in the UK; this excellent collaboration allowed the important observations to be made.

“Cats may become infected by the high doses of virus transmitted by their infected owners in some settings. The relative size of a cat v 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. Owners exercising normal hygienic measures around their animals, including hand washing, should avoid most risks of infection from contaminated surfaces.”  

 

Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, 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.”

 

Daniella Dos Santos, President, British Veterinary Association, said:

“While pet owners may be worried by this news, we’d like to emphasise that there continues to be no evidence that infected pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners. There have been a tiny number of cases of Covid-19 in domestic animals worldwide and in all cases, it appears likely that the transmission was from infected humans to animals.

“We have been in touch with vets in Government and the local veterinary practice for information and have been informed that the cat only showed mild clinical signs and has since made a full recovery.

“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.

“It is also the case that animals may 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. That’s why good hand hygiene remains important.”

 

Prof Diana Bell, University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, said:

“The chances of pet cats becoming infected are extremely low with very few cases confirmed globally and it is contracted from an infected owner not vice versa. Government instructions about hygiene practices such as regular handwashing should be followed in a positive household with a pet cat to safeguard the latter.”

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/covid-19-confirmed-in-pet-cat-in-the-uk

 

Previous comments on pets and COVID-19:

12th June: expert reaction to SAGE document about the risk of pets spreading coronavirus

8th April: expert reaction to a study looking at susceptibility of pets to the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2)

5th March: expert reaction to reports that the (previously reported) pet dog in Hong Kong has repeatedly tested ‘weak positive’ for COVID-19 virus

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink: www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

None received.

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