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Following news of the UK’s first confirmed case of coronavirus in a pet, cat owners will understandably want to know what that means for their own pets.
The cat in question caught Covid-19 from its owners, who tested positive for the virus, and all of them have since gone on to make full recoveries.
As it stands, the virus has only been detected in relatively small numbers of cats worldwide and there is little evidence to suggest the virus causes significant illness in this species.
But how would you even know if your pet had coronavirus? And what are you meant to do if you suspect they have?
What are the signs of Covid-19 in cats?
The pet cat diagnosed with Covid-19 in the UK was experiencing symptoms including nasal discharge and shortness of breath.
Researchers from the University of Glasgow made the discovery as part of their research programme, where they have screened hundreds of samples for Covid-19 infections in the feline population in the UK.
Professor William Weir, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, tells HuffPost UK: “The infected cat we detected was found in the course of a research study, where we tested respiratory swabs from cats throughout the UK. This cat also had a feline herpesvirus infection, which was consistent with its ‘flu’-like symptoms at the time.”
Prof Weir adds: “There are many common viruses and bacteria that can cause respiratory disease in cats – so, if someone finds that their cat has respiratory disease, they should take it to the vet who will examine and advise on any diagnostic testing required.”
Symptoms of respiratory disease include: sneezing, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, ocular discharge, loss of appetite, fever, and coughing.
You should call or email your veterinary practice to book an appointment, rather than taking your pet straight there. And, if you’ve tested positive for Covid-19, you should let them know.
Which animals have caught Covid-19?
During the current pandemic, naturally occurring Covid-19 infections have been reported in pet cats, non-domestic cats and dogs. Scientists have also shown that cats, ferrets and hamsters are susceptible, whereas ducks, chickens and pigs appear not to be susceptible.
Prof Weir says: “The factors that govern why one species is susceptible to the Covid-19 virus while others are more resistant are currently unknown, but will likely reveal more about how this virus spreads and causes disease.”
Can cats give Covid-19 to humans?
There is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the virus to people. Professor James Wood, head of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, told PA Media: “A handful of pets in contact with infected human owners have been found to be infected around the world.
“The data overall continues to suggest that cats may become infected by their owners if their owners have Covid- 19, but there is no suggestion that they may transmit it to owners.”
The relative size of a cat versus a human means there’s far less exhaled breath from one cat in a house, compared with the exhaled breath volumes from a human. It’s also thought the grooming behaviour of cats means they’re more likely to catch infection from an owner than vice versa.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at 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.”
What can owners do if they’re worried about passing the virus onto their cat?
You should avoid contact with your cat including stroking, petting, being kissed or licked and sharing food if you think you have coronavirus.
Daniella Dos Santos, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: “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.”
Public Health England advises that people wash their hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.
Explaining why this is important, Dos Santos said: “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.”