COVID-19 Update: New York Positive Cats

Now that the dust has settled a little bit, we can all take a deep breath and look at where we are in regards to the health and safety of our cats during this coronavirus pandemic. We have evidence that only 5 pets (China: 2 dogs and 1 cat; New York: 2 cats) have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 while millions of humans have tested positive globally. These SARS-CoV-2 positive pets were in close contact with SARS-CoV-2 positive humans. Despite the fact that pets have tested positive, there is no evidence our pets can infect us with the coronavirus.

During this time, laboratory studies have indicated that cats, hamsters and ferrets can be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Remember, these are under laboratory settings and in no way represent the real world we live in. There is no evidence that cats are easily infected with SARS-CoV-2 under normal settings. The primary mode of transmission for COVID-19 is human to human.

The CDC and the NVSL have confirmed that 2 cats from New York did in fact test positive for SARS-CoV-2. One cat lived with a COVID-19 positive human. The second indoor/outdoor cat is presumed to have acquired the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a COVID-19 positive human as it lived in an area with a high level of COVID-19 cases. Both cats showed mild upper respiratory symptoms and fully recovered.

Yes, it makes us a little nervous that 2 cats tested positive in New York and studies suggest cats can be infected. However, we focus on common ailments in our cats first before we pursue rare diseases. If your cat is showing upper respiratory signs (sneezing, eye discharge, nasal discharge), it is far more likely your cat has a herpesvirus infection or seasonal allergies. If you are COVID-19 positive and your cat is experiencing upper respiratory signs, there is an extremely small chance you may pass the SARS-Cov-2 virus to your cat. It is recommended that COVID-19 positive humans limited or avoid contact with their cat. SARS-Cov-2 testing is available but are limited to extreme cases that must be approved by the health department. I do not recommend testing at this time because (1) we can assume a cat showing mild upper respiratory signs living with a COVID-19 positive person has probably been exposed to the coronavirus, (2) the few cats that have tested positive had mild signs and completely recovered, (3) a positive test will not change a treatment plan as we will still address very common upper respiratory diseases (herpesvirus, allergies) that occur during this time of year and (4) there is no evidence a SARS-CoV-2 positive cat can transmit the virus to a person or another animal.

There is no need to panic. The best way to protect your cat(s) is to follow the recommendations from the human health agencies (i.e. social distancing, wash your hands) as COVID-19 spreads from human-to-human interaction.