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COVID-19: PA Positive Cat

On October 20th, the Department of Agriculture’s state veterinarian announced the first confirmed COVID-19 positive cat in Pennsylvania from Cumberland County. The cat resided in a household with multiple positive COVID-19 humans. The 16-year-old cat did show some respiratory illness and treatment was pursued. Common respiratory diseases were initially ruled out before testing for SARS-CoV-2. The cat was euthanized due to the progression of respiratory signs. The case is still under investigation and a primary cause of death has not been determined.

No pet has died directly from COVID-19

Over the past few months, there have been a few trends that have surfaced regarding COVID-19 and our beloved pets. First, only a handful of pets have tested positive, especially when compared to the number of humans that have tested positive. Second, the handful of pets that have tested positive have been in contact with one or more COVID-19 positive humans. All positive pets had known prolonged exposure to COVID-19 positive humans. Lastly, as far as we know, no pet has passed away directly from COVID-19. The COVID-19 positive pets that passed away were generally older with underlying health issues.

Positive pets have prolonged exposure to COVID-19 positive humans

Unfortunately, there have been a large number of clinical signs in humans associated with COVID-19. In pets, clinical signs may include respiratory (sneezing, coughing, eye/nose discharge, difficulty breathing), fever, lethargy and/or GI signs (vomiting, diarrhea). It must be stressed that more common causes have to be ruled out before pursuing a COVID-19 test for your pet, especially if your pet has not had prolonged exposure to a COVID-19 positive human.

Pets do not play a significant role in spreading COVID-19

The best way to protect your feline family members if you are positive for COVID-19 are…

• Avoid contact with pets (i.e. similar to a self-quarantine from other humans) including petting, snuggling, facial contact, holding and sleeping in the same bed.

• Have someone else care for your pet during your quarantine.

• If you cannot have someone else care for your pet, wear face masks, wash your hands, etc. as you would with other human contact.

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.

Coronavirus Update: The Tiger

This week brings another news story about a big cat testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. A tiger from the Bronx Zoo was confirmed SARS-CoV-2 positive by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory. A few tigers and lions showed upper respiratory signs which prompted the testing. It is believed the source was an employee who was “actively shedding” the virus. No other animals are showing any signs and the cats are expected to recover uneventfully. Currently, these animals are being monitored by the CDC and USDA. Please stay tuned as this story continues to develop.

This also comes on the heels of the Nature article suggesting that cats can become infected with SARS-CoV-2. A few more points from last week’s blog. The website that shared the article states posted papers on their website “should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or be reported in news media as established information.” The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) highlights that this article (1) has not been peer reviewed, (2) points out that just because a cat is infected in a lab setting does not mean they will be infected naturally, and (3) only a very small number of animals were used in the experiment making it difficult to draw any conclusions. The AVMA stresses that “nothing in these research articles provides conclusive evidence that cats, ferrets, or other domestic animals can be readily infected with SARS-CoV-2, nor do they demonstrate that cats, ferrets or other domestic animals transmit the virus under natural conditions.”

To put this into a little perspective: We have documented over a million human COVID-19 cases (many more undocumented cases exist). Only 2 dogs, 1 cat and 1 tiger have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. None of these animals showed signs consistent with COVID-19. Unfortunately, no conclusions about COVID-19 can be drawn from the positive Belguim cat (see the previous blog). Idexx, a National Veterinary Laboratory, has tested “more than 4,000 canine, feline, and equine specimens” and reported no positive results.

For more detailed information, please visit the AVMA website.


A few soap box stances for you:

1) When animals are tested, they are using an animal test, not a human test. [The animal tests are not available so you cannot test your cat.]

2) With a large number of infected humans co-existing with a large number of domesticated animals, we are bound to get a few positive pets. A positive test in your pet does not equate to infection and disease.

3) In all instances of a SARS-C0V-2 positive animals, it has been a COVID-19 human that has been the source. If we humans are doing our part (i.e social distancing, washing our hands, covering our mouths, minimizing contact), our cats would be safe and this pandemic would be much reduced.

I employ you to listen to the experts and follow their recommendations as we will continue to see more of these news stories. It is not a time to panic. Instead, take note and let the experts research, study and draw proper conclusions.

In summary:

 

 

 


There is no evidence that pets are a source for SARS-CoV-2.

There is no evidence that pets can spread SARS-CoV-2 to humans.

Severe disease or death have not been reported in pets from COVID-19.


Recommendations:

You DO NOT need to get rid of your pets.

If you are unwell, minimize contact with your pets.

If you are unwell, allow someone else to care for your pets.

If your pet becomes unwell, contact your veterinarian
 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Coronavirus: Cats & COVID-19

There are two new cat-specific updates this week as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues. We encourage you to read the previous coronavirus blogs and check back here often as we learn more about this novel SARS-CoV-2 and the implications it potentially has for cats. Below are this weeks updates relating to the cat community. We also encourage the reader to stick with reputable sources from veterinarians. Please avoid social media and other outlets that are dramatizing these news stories. Context is everything!

Update 1

On 3/31/20, a second cat in Hong Kong tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on oral, nasal and rectal swabs. The cat was living with a COVID-19 positive human. The cat is currently in quarantine showing no signs of illness.

Update 2

An article from Nature dated 4/1/20 says coronavirus can infect cats. It is unclear whether cats can spread the virus to humans. The articles states…

“Cats can be infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and can spread it to other cats, but dogs are not really susceptible to the infection, say researchers in China.”



Now before everyone panics, we need to take this finding into perspective. In this study, cats were deliberately infected with high doses of SARS-CoV-2 in a lab setting. It should be noted that this scenario will probably not happen in real life. It is also worth noting that none of the infected cats became ill or showed symptoms related to the SARS-COV-2 infection. The real life implications of this study’s findings are not known yet.

With the above in mind, The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with COVID-19 limit contact with their pets, including avoiding stroking them, being licked and sharing food.

Read the full article here.

At this time, there is still no need to worry.
Use common sense hygienic practices.

Coronavirus: The Cat In Belgium

You may have heard about a cat in Belgium “infected” with COVID-19 showing digestive and respiratory signs. This cat’s vomit and feces tested PCR positive for SARS-CoV-2. The cat lived with a human that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 one week prior to the cat showing signs of illness. It is not known if the virus from the human was the same as the virus in the cat. The implications of this news story is that COVID-19 positive humans may potentially transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to and infect their cats.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of unanswered questions and discrepancies in this case. For instance, the COVID-19 positive human collected the cat’s vomit and fecal samples off the floor to be tested. It is likely that the positive human unintentionally contaminated the cat’s samples. The reporting does not establish a clear cause and effect relationship between the COVID-19 positive human and clinical signs in the cat. It is unclear if other causes for digestive and respiratory signs were looked into or ruled out in this cat. Fortunately, the cat recovered about 9 days later.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) stresses…

“Right now, we have limited information about SARS-CoV-2 and dogs and cats. However, taken collectively, as of right now it appears that dogs and cats are not infected easily with SARS-CoV-2, we have little to no evidence that they become sick, and there is no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people or other pets.”
 

Coronavirus Update 3

Please read the previous coronavirus blogs from the past few weeks for additional information.

We have been discussing the 2 quarantined dogs in China where 1 dog tested “weak positive” multiple times. That dog was released after a 2 week quarantine and after testing negative for SARS-CoV-2. Unfortunately, the dog has passed away. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is reassuring pet owners there is…

 

“no evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted from pets.”
The dog never should any signs relating to COVID-19 and had a number of underlying health issues. It is believed that the dog passed away from significant heart and kidney disease, NOT COVID-19. WSAVA stresses that there is no evidence the dog contracted COVID-19. WSAVA also highlights the fact that there is no evidence the dog could have passed the virus to another human or animal.

“While there is still much we don’t know about COVID19, we do know that the Pomeranian dog did not die from the virus, and the second dog is also showing no signs, either of the disease or of being able to transmit it to other pets or people. The current evidence still strongly indicates that COVID-19 cannot be contracted from pets. – WSAVA”
There is currently no COVID-19 test for animals. IDEXX, a national veterinary reference laboratory, has tested thousands of cat and dog samples while testing a new SARS-CoV-2 veterinary test system. To date, they have found no positive results.

The veterinary community still recommends taking some precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are not ill with COVID-19, you may continue normal activities with your cat (i.e. playing, feeding). You should continue to practice common sense hygiene during these activities. Recommendations include (1) washing your hands before and after interacting with your cat, (2) washing food and water dishes with soap and water often and (3) washing your cat’s bedding and toys regularly.

If you are ill with COVID-19, experts recommend limiting or avoiding contact with your cat until we learn more about the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Another member of your household should primary be involved in feeding and playing with your cat.

Experts want to stress that there is no evidence cats can become ill with COVID-19 nor can they transmit COVID-19 to other animals, including people.
 

 

 

 

Coronavirus Update 2

Please read the coronavirus blog from last week for basic information.

Last week we discussed the fact that a dog tested “weak positive” for coronavirus last month. The same dog has continued to test “weak positive” for the SARS-CoV-2 virus three separate times. Experts think that this dog does have a low level viral infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Experts speculate that this may indicate a human-to-animal infection and are not on record yet that this has definitely occurred.

A second dog is in quarantine and currently negative for the coronavirus. Neither dog is showing signs of COVID-19. Experts stress…

“there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.”



At this time, it is unclear if pets can become infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is recommended to perform common sense practices such as washing your hands or using hand sanitizer. If you have COVID-19, limit contact with animals and avoid direct contact (i.e. kissing, hugging, sharing food). Even though it is thought that SARS-CoV-2 originated from bats, it is currently thought that animals cannot transmit SARS-CoV-2 to humans and animals cannot become infected with SARS-CoV-2.

There is currently no SARS-CoV-2 testing available for animals in the U.S.


For more information, visit the CDC website, World Health Organization website, World Organisation For Animal Health website or the American Association for Veterinary Medicine website.

Coronavirus

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about coronavirus and the health implications for cats. Currently, this is a human health issue. There is no indication that cats can become infected with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) or transmit COVID-19 to humans. The health risk is low in this country but this is currently an active area of interest.

Let’s get our terminology correct before proceeding:

Coronavirus A family of RNA viruses that commonly infects humans and animals. Many cats are exposed to and become infected by a benign coronavirus, resulting in “flu-like” symptoms or no signs at all. In some individual cats, the benign coronavirus can mutate into FIP resulting in death. The coronavirus in the news causing COVID-19 is not the FIP virus.

COVID-19 The disease caused by the coronavirus currently in the news. Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China first reported pneumonia in humans with an unknown cause in December 2019. A new strain of coronavirus was identified as the culprit. Coronavirus Disease 2019 is abbreviated COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 The specific coronavirus resulting in the COVID-19 disease in humans was named SARS-CoV-2 on 2/11/20. Person to person spread of the SARS-CoV-2 has been confirmed. [This name may look familiar from past outbreaks of similar viruses: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus SARS-CoV around 2002 & 2003; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus MERS-CoV around 2012.]

The best practice you can do is wash your hands
and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.


On February 28th, 2020 Hong Kong announced that a pet dog had tested “weak positive” for the COVID-19 coronavirus. The dog was not showing any signs related to the coronavirus. At this time there is no evidence that our pets can be infected with the coronavirus. There is no evidence that our pets could be a source for the coronavirus. The dog is currently being quarantined for monitoring. Additional follow up tests will be performed at a later date.

The implications of the “weak positive” result from the dog who was owned by someone infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus is unknown. This could be environmental contamination (i.e. the virus was in the household where the dog was). There may be issues with the test or cross reactivity. This may also indicate an infection.

“Currently there is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals can be infected with COVID-19 virus, nor is there evidence that pets or other domestic animals might be a source of infection to people with COVID-19.”
– World Organisation For Animal Health


“There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus. To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19.”
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


For more information, visit the CDC website, World Health Organization website, World Organisation For Animal Health website or the American Veterinary Medical Association website.

Please follow this blog for more updates in the future. There are many questions still to be answered and more research is needed.

 


Hairballs

Hairballs are never normal. Ah hem, I’ll repeat…Hairballs are never normal!


When we look at feral cat populations, the incidence of vomiting up a hairball is very uncommon. Yes, it does happen but it is a rare occurrence. Because of these studies, we can confidently say that vomiting up a hairball is not a normal feline physiological process. In other words, hairballs are not normal.

HAIRBALLS ARE NEVER NORMAL!

Before we begin, we have to address the incorrect phrase I hear weekly which is “My cat coughs up hairballs.” The act of coughing involves the lower respiratory tract (i.e. trachea and lungs). We cough to get rid of irritants in the respiratory tract. Your cat vomits hairballs to remove them from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The terms “hairball” and “vomiting” are the same. There is no difference between your cat vomiting versus getting rid of a hairball. When we say “coughing up a hairball,” we are referring to two different body systems. Your cat cannot cough (i.e. respiratory tract) up a hairball that is in the stomach or intestines. It can be difficult to distinguish between a cough and vomiting. To make matters more confusing, your cat may be coughing to such an extent that they vomit a little.

Now that we know that vomiting and hairballs are the same and cats cannot cough up a hairball, the next step is to determine why your cat is vomiting up hairballs since we now know that it is not normal. A cat’s GI tract is designed to “handle” or allow hair to pass through. Too often, the assumption is made that hairballs are “normal” for cats. In reality, vomiting hairballs is a clinical sign that something is wrong with the GI tract. The assumption that a vomiting cat is normal is wrong. It’s a clue something is not quite normal with your cat. We do expect long-haired cats to vomit a hairball more often than short-haired cats. However, vomiting a hairball in long-haired cats is still not normal.

Hairball diets and treatments are generally ineffective


There is a huge market for hairball “treatments,” and I generally do not recommend any of them. The treatments are essentially petroleum jelly concoctions that allow “things to slide through” the GI tract with the idea that your cat has a “grease deficiency.” Imagine if you went to the doctor for vomiting and they advised you to eat petroleum jelly 2-3 times a day. When you put it in that context, it sounds a bit ridiculous. However, this practice has been widely accepted within the cat community. The “hairball” treats and diets are trying to “bulk up” the stool with the addition of fiber to allow more hair to pass. There will inevitably be a few reading this that will argue these treatments or diets help their cat with hairballs. Great! In my experience, when I push a client to determine if they think these products really reduced the frequency of hairballs, the answer is almost always no.

There are generally two thoughts as to why cats vomit hairballs: (1) ingesting an abnormal amount of hair (i.e. more than their normal grooming behavior) or (2) some GI disease. If a cat feels pain or inflammation, they tend to overgroom and ingest more hair. The most common causes we see include fleas, urinary issues (i.e. over grooming the belly), or arthritis (elbows, hips, knees, lumbosacral region). When cats groom, it feels good (think serotonin release) which is why they tend to overgroom in times of pain/discomfort or stress. When a shorthair cat has frequent hairballs, we immediately suspect something is wrong with their GI tract.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for a cat that has hairballs. If your cat has hairballs, it requires a visit to your veterinarian. A comprehensive examination with a detailed history should help pinpoint the diagnostic and treatment path one should undertake to determine the root cause for your cat’s hairballs. After all, hairballs are not normal!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Pet Food Labels Part 2

As discussed last month, a pet food label is a legal document rather than giving you useful information about your cat’s diet. Check out the previous Blog: FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Pet Food Labels Part 1. To give you additional headaches, here are some more examples of how minor details in the wording can have major effects on what is in your cat food:

Chicken Cat Food
Cat Food means 95% of the named ingredient must be in the diet (not including water). This is the “95% rule.” Remember, cats need nutrients, not ingredients. The ingredient does not tell you about quality, safety, digestibility or bioavailability. These diets generally have the listed ingredient (i.e. chicken) as the first ingredient. When water is added in, chicken must be 70% of the diet.


Chicken & Turkey Cat Food
The “95% rule” applies here again. 95% of the diet needs to be a combination of chicken and turkey. However, there needs to be more of the first named ingredient (chicken) in the diet.


Chicken Dinner
Dinner means a minimum of 25% of the named ingredient must be in the diet (not including water). This is the “Dinner” or “25% rule.” Chicken can be anywhere between 25% & 94%. Simply by changing the phrase Chicken Cat Food to Chicken Cat Dinner, you may decrease the amount of chicken in the diet by as much as 70%. You may have 94% chicken in the diet but it still needs to be labeled chicken dinner. These diets generally have the listed ingredient (chicken) further down on the ingredient list. When water is added in, chicken still must be at least 10% of the diet. To confuse matters more, you may purchase a chicken dinner diet only to discover another protein source (i.e. fish) may have a higher percentage than the chicken after reading the ingredient list. Other terms you may see that act like the term “dinner” include “entrée,” “formula,” and “platter.”

Chicken & Turkey Entrée
The “25% rule” applies here. 25% of the diets needs to be a combination of chicken and turkey. Again, there needs to be more of the first named ingredient (chicken) in the diet. The other listed ingredients in the title needs to be at least 3% (i.e. turkey needs to be at least 3% of the diet).

Chicken Cat Food with tuna
With highlights diets with an ingredient in sufficient quantities (at least 3%) but not enough to meet the “dinner” or “25% rule.” This is the “With “or “3%” rule. This diet still has 95% chicken with at least 3% tuna added. Be careful with the wording. Can you tell the difference between Chicken Cat Food and Cat Food With Chicken? Chicken Cat food is 95% chicken while Cat Food With Chicken has only 3% chicken. One little word (with) can decrease the amount of chicken in the diet by 92%! Words make a huge difference. See why pet food labels are referred to as legal documents?

Chicken Flavored Cat Food
Enter the “Flavor” rule. This diet must have enough chicken to be detected and no chicken percentages are required. Any ingredient that gives a “chicken flavor” to the diet can be used like chicken by-products, chicken meal or chicken digest. Companies use specific tests to make this claim. There may be no chicken in the diet, only an ingredient (i.e. chicken digest) that produces a chicken flavor.

Pet food labels are not very useful
when selecting a diet for your cat.

I only use the pet food label to avoid ingredients that are known to cause a food allergy in an individual cat. Cat owners are better served by sticking with large pet food companies that employ veterinary nutritionists to formulate their diets. Preference is given to companies that employ AAFCO feeding trials (and nutrient profiles) and manufacture their own diets in their own facilities.

Please check out the Grain-Free & Raw Diet blogs
if you are interested in cat nutrition.