A pet cat has tested positive for the coronavirus, in the first confirmed case in the UK of it infecting an animal.
The government said the cat is thought to have been infected by its owners, who had tested positive for COVID-19, though the animal and people have all fully recovered.
There was no transmission to other animals or people in the household, and no evidence to suggest the animal gave the disease to the owners, or that animals can pass COVID-19 on to people, the government added in a statement.
Public Health England has advised people to continue to wash their hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.
The president of the British Veterinary Association has recommended not letting the cat out if an owner is infected with COVID but said this may not be possible.
Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Tests conducted by the Animal and Plant Health Agency have confirmed that the virus responsible for COVID-19 has been detected in a pet cat in England.
“This is a very rare event with infected animals detected to date only showing mild clinical signs and recovering within in a few days.
“There is no evidence to suggest that pets directly transmit the virus to humans. We will continue to monitor this situation closely and will update our guidance to pet owners should the situation change.”
The cat was diagnosed by a private vet with feline herpes, a common respiratory infection, but the sample was later tested for the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19 as part of a research programme.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency laboratory in Weybridge confirmed the cat was co-infected with the coronavirus.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: “This is the first case of a domestic cat testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK but should not be a cause for alarm.
“The investigation into this case suggest that the infection was spread from humans to animal, and not the other way round. At this time, there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease to humans.
“In line with the general advice on fighting coronavirus, you should wash your hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.”
Daniella Dos Santos, the president of the British Veterinary Association, said: “Our advice to pet owners who have Covid-19 or who are self-isolating with symptoms remains to restrict contact with their pets as a precautionary measure and to practise good hygiene, including regular hand washing.
“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.”
Government advice on caring for pets amid the pandemic is available.
The case has been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health and follows a small number of confirmed cases in pets in other countries in Europe, North America and Asia, the government said.
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