As the world self-isolates in an attempt to flatten the curve of new Coronavirus infections, many have wondered how their pets may be affected by the virus. This has led to a lot of uncertainty — and misinformation. Some of that misinformation, unfortunately, has catalyzed the abandonment of pets and violence against animals, which is why it's important to get the full picture around pets and COVID-19 before we jump to any conclusions.
The truth is, there’s still a lot we don’t really know, and that goes for doctors and scientists, too. Recent news of a tiger in the Bronx Zoo contracting Coronavirus only gives us more pause, as it's the first animal in the US to do so — and also a big cat. Despite all this, it's important not to panic. There's a lot we need to learn. When talking about cats and COVID-19, we have to first make the distinction between what it means to become infected and what it means to become a carrier.
A recent study that came out of China (that has yet to be peer-reviewed) has asserted that cats can be infected by the disease and pass it on to members of the same species. Researchers exposed certain cats to viral particles and left uninfected cats in the vicinity to see if the disease would spread. Their preliminary findings indicate that cats can host and spread the disease among cats, which is bolstered by similar research done in the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.
“At this point, we are beginning to see data that cats may have the potential to become infected and replicate the virus in laboratory settings. These are very preliminary findings, and are similar to findings surrounding the original SARS disease, which is 96% similar to COVID-19,” says Dr. Chris Menges, DVM.
“At this point, we are beginning to see data that cats may have the potential to become infected and replicate the virus in laboratory settings. These are very preliminary findings,” says Dr. Chris Menges, DVM.
As Dr. Menges says, the research is preliminary, but all of the studies done since the SARS outbreak of 2003 would indicate that cats are not a significant part of transmission to humans.
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No evidence exists to date (per the AVMA and CDC) that pets are acting as a source of infection to humans. “All evidence suggests that the virus that causes COVID-19 binds to human cell receptors best and performs best in human cells,” explains JustFoodForDogs Chief Medical Officer and veterinarian Dr. Oscar Chavez.
Human-to-human transmission remains the only documented form of transmission among people in this pandemic. “Pets are not considered to be a source of infection, and in the rare chance that the cases in pets are determined to be confirmed infections, then these occurrences are exceedingly rare and the pets serve as likely 'dead end' hosts — meaning the virus dies in them, and they are not a source of infection for humans,” says Dr. Chavez.
[Coronavirus infections in pets] are exceedingly rare and the pets serve as likely 'dead end' hosts — meaning the virus dies in them, and they are not a source of infection for humans,” says Dr. Chavez.
However, there are some stories that have given pet owners pause. For example, a cat in Belgium is reported to have tested positive for the virus, but investigations are still ongoing and there is still some doubt as to whether this is evidence of true infection. “Unfortunately, some news outlets are reporting on this prematurely and causing possible confusion,” continues Dr. Chavez.
We’re still figuring a lot out. “There is only preliminary data coming out from studies at this point, which we need to take with a grain of salt while more data is collected,” Dr. Menges further clarifies. That being said, there is no evidence of cats developing clinical signs, nor has there been evidence that they may pass the disease on to humans.
At this time, we do not have a clinical picture of what COVID-19 could look like in a cat. “The best guesses would be potentially respiratory (like coughing) or gastrointestinal (like vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence) symptoms would occur, but we are still trying to learn if cats even are clinically susceptible to the disease,” says Dr. Menges.
If you do think that your cat may have COVID-19, it’s important to call your veterinarian immediately and ask them how to proceed. “As we are still trying to learn more about the disease, following their advice from a prescription and testing format will help alleviate any conditions in your pet,” says Dr. Menges.
Please let your veterinarian know if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or a person in your household has, as that can impact the treatment process and help protect the veterinary staff from unnecessary exposure. Many vets now have guidelines in place to assist in social distancing, such as curbside pet pickup by their staff as well as telemedicine options.
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According to Dr. Chavez, a prominent veterinary laboratory, IDEXX, along with dozens of veterinarians and epidemiologists are monitoring for evidence of COVID-19 in pets and have not been able to find it in over 4000 test cases, including samples in South Korea and the US. “There is no need to fear your pets as a possible source of infection at this time. In fact, pets are proving to be a source of comfort, companionship, loyalty and love during otherwise uncertain times as pet adoptions are generally up nationwide. It is important that we continue to provide you with accurate, truthful information to avoid misunderstandings and the unnecessary abandonment of pets,” says Dr. Chavez.
We will continue to update this story as we learn more. If you have more specific questions, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]