Two cases of human-to-cat Covid-19 transmission have been discovered in the UK. Scientists from the University of Glasgow discovered the cases as part of a Covid-19 screening programme of the feline population.
Sadly one of the cats – a four month-old female Ragdoll kitten – died from lung damage as a result of the virus.
University of Glasgow researchers believe the two known cases of human-to-cat transmission are likely to be an underestimate of the true frequency of spread in the UK, as animal testing is limited.
Since the pandemic began, there have been reports of cats from Covid-19 households in Hong Kong, Belgium, the USA, France, Spain, Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy, Chile, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Switzerland and Latvia that tested positive for the virus and were presumed to be infected by their owners.
Professor Margaret Hosie, study lead author from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said as human cases decrease, the prospect of transmission among animals becomes “increasingly important” as a potential source of SARS-CoV-2 reintroduction to humans.
“It is therefore important to improve our understanding of whether exposed animals could play any role in transmission,” she added.
What happened to the cats?
The cats, each a different breed, came from separate households and displayed mild to severe respiratory signs. Researchers think both were infected by their owners, who displayed Covid-19 symptoms before the cats became unwell.
A four month-old female Ragdoll kitten was the first cat, from a household in which the owner developed symptoms consistent with Covid-19 at the end of March 2020, although the owner was not tested. The kitten was taken to the vets in April with difficulty breathing and its condition deteriorated. It later had to be put down. Post-mortem samples revealed damage to the lungs consistent with a viral pneumonia and there was evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The second cat was a six-year-old female Siamese from a household where one owner tested positive for the virus. The cat was taken to the vet with nasal discharge and conjunctivitis, but these symptoms remained mild and the cat later recovered. Researchers sequenced the virus in the Siamese cat and found that it was very similar to viral genomes circulating in humans.
What if you catch Covid and have a cat?
It’s recommended that if a person tests positive for coronavirus (or believes they might have it due to experiencing symptoms), they should restrict contact with animals, just as they would avoid other humans.
If you can, try and keep pets in a separate part of the home to where you are self-isolating. Cats will need access to the outdoors or a clean litter tray, as well as their food and water bowls. If you need to touch them for any reason, wash your hands before and after.
You should avoid contact with your cat including stroking, petting, being kissed or licked and sharing food if you think – or know – you have coronavirus.
What are the signs of Covid-19 in cats?
Coronavirus symptoms in cats are very similar to flu-like symptoms, so they might struggle with issues like sneezing, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, eye 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, let them know.
Can cats give Covid-19 to humans?
There’s no evidence of cat-to-human transmission, or that cats, dogs or other domestic animals have caused human infections. Whether cats with Covid-19 could naturally transmit the virus to other animals, or back to humans, remains unknown.
Professor James Wood, head of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, previously 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 cats have far less exhaled breath than humans. It’s also thought cats’ grooming behaviour 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 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.”