SARS-CoV2 / COVID-19 in cats
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) was first described in 2019 as the cause of the disease COVID-19 in people. SARS-CoV2 is a type of coronavirus which is different from the commonly occurring coronaviruses that might affect the pet populations in the UK.
SARS-CoV2 is primarily a virus that infects humans, but infections have been reported in cats, dogs, ferrets and mink. In almost all the reported cases the animal involved was known to have been infected from a human contact. The virus can be especially infectious to mink (and probably also ferrets). Zoo animals can also be infected and there have been reports of infection of lions, tigers, snow leopards and puma.
Can my pet catch SARS-CoV2?
Cats, dogs, ferrets and hamsters can catch SARS-CoV2 from close contact with humans with SARS-CoV2. There have been no reports of infection in rabbits.
People who have an active coronavirus infection should avoid close contact with all pets. Animals that are immunosuppressed are likely to be at greater risk of being infected with SARS-CoV2 than are healthy animals and might be more likely to develop clinical signs.
Can I catch SARS-CoV2 from my pet?
There have been no reports of cats or dogs passing disease to people. However, some people working at infected mink farms are thought to have caught infection from the mink. Due to the similarity between ferrets and mink, ferret owners should take extra precautions when handling their pets and ferrets should be isolated for 21 days if anyone in the household is infected.
How would I know if my pet had COVID-19?
Most cases identified in pets have been asymptomatic, or have had mild self-limiting respiratory signs (sneeze, cough, ocular discharge) or gastrointestinal disease (vomiting and/or diarrhoea). A small number of pets from COVID-19 households have tested positive but generally the animals recovered within a few days of displaying clinical signs (such as respiratory or gastro-intestinal disease).
What should I do if I think my pet has COVID-19?
Consult your veterinary surgeon immediately for a proper diagnosis and advice. This is an emerging viral disease and all infections in pets must be reported by the diagnostic laboratory to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in the UK, who then report the case to the World Organisation for Animal Health (formerly the Office International des Epizooties (OIE)).
In most cases in pets the disease will be very mild and your vet may just recommend that you care for your pet at home. If your pet’s condition deteriorates then more supportive treatment may be necessary in a veterinary hospital.
How should I care for my pet if I have COVID-19?
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should isolate yourself from your pets as well as other people to prevent spreading infection. If you can, ask someone else to look after your pets. If that is not possible, then wear a mask and wash your hands before and after contact. Always take the following precautions if you are isolating because of COVID-19:
- Good hygiene: always wash your hands before and after touching your pet, pet food and poo/litter waste. Don’t use antiseptic wipes on your pet’s coat.
- Don’t let your pet interact with people or animals outside your household.
- Keep your pet indoors.
While there have been reports of human to cat transmission, there is currently no evidence of cat-to-human transmission.
Can my pet be vaccinated against COVID-19?
Vaccination of the human population is a priority during the pandemic and no COVID-19 vaccines for pets have been licensed in Europe. A small number of animals in zoos have been vaccinated with an experimental vaccine. Once the pandemic in humans has been controlled, vaccine manufacturers might manufacture and license vaccines for pets. However, severe SARS-CoV2 infection in animals is incredibly rare and clinical signs are generally mild in cats and dogs and so vaccination would only be used to provide reassurance to pet owners.
Where can I get more information?
The following websites have further information on COVID-19 and pets:
- BSAVA: https://www.bsava.com/adviceforpetowners
- European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases (ABCD):
- ABCD Guidelines SARS-CoV-2 in Cats. Available online: http://www.abcdcatsvets.org/sars-coronavirus-2-and-cats/
- FIP and coronavirus website: www.catvirus.com; http://www.catvirus.com/sars.htm
- ISFM: https://icatcare.org/covid-19-advice-for-cat-owners/
- OIE: https://www.oie.int/en/what-we-offer/emergency-and-resilience/covid-19/