What you need to know about cats and coronavirus

Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent
·3-min read

The UK has its first confirmed case of coronavirus in a pet cat.

The cat caught Covid-19 from its owners, who tested positive for the virus, and all of them have since gone on to make full recoveries.

But what do we know about the spread of the virus between humans and their pets?

– Can cats pass Covid-19 on to humans?

All the evidence suggests this is not possible.

There is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the virus to people.

Professor James Wood, head of department of veterinary medicine, University of Cambridge, said: “A handful of pets in contact with infected human owners have been found to be infected around the world.

“The data overall continue 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.”

– So why can’t cats transmit the virus to humans?

The relative size of a cat versus a human means that there is far less exhaled breath from one cat in a house, compared with the exhaled breath volumes from a human patient.

It is also thought that the grooming behaviour of cats means that they are more likely to catch infection from an owner than vice versa.

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, 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 are worried about passing the virus on to their pet cat?

Public Health England advises that people wash their hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.

Experts also say that people can protect their pets by avoiding close contact if they are, or think they might be, infected with the virus.

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.”

An exotic shorthair cat
There is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the virus to people (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“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.

“That’s why good hand hygiene remains important.

Cats Protection advised: “As a precaution, to avoid any risks to the cat, people who are suspected of having, or known to have Covid-19 should be particularly careful by minimising contact with their cat and washing their hands with soap and hot water before and after handling.”

– What about other animals?

The UK case has been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in line with international commitments.

There have been a very small number of confirmed cases in pets in other countries in Europe, North America and Asia.

According to OIE, cats (domestic and large cats), mink, and dogs have tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 in the field setting, following contact with humans known or suspected to be infected with Sars-CoV-2.

In the field setting cats have shown clinical signs of disease including respiratory and gastro-intestinal signs.

In April a tiger tested positive for the virus at a zoo in the US.

Although several animal species have been infected with the virus, these infections are not a driver of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic is driven by human-to-human transmission.