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.
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.
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.
For more detailed information, please visit the AVMA website.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
“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.”
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.
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…
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.
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.
“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.”
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…
Please read the coronavirus blog from last week for basic information.
“there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.”
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…
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.