Last updated March 6, 2020
Recent headlines have many pet owners spooked. This epidemic is spreading extremely quickly. Ingrid R. Niesman, MS, PhD, takes a look at what we know as of right now about how the coronavirus may or may not impact cats.
The novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19 or 2019n-COV, has caused great concern around the world. Depending on which news outlet you follow, your reaction may range from normal awareness to outright alarm. For cat parents, a big worry is whether the virus could affect cats.
Both WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have stated that at present, there is no evidence that any pets have been infected or spread the virus, although both acknowledge that this is a developing situation. We simply don’t know enough about this virus yet.
Earlier this week, the One Health Committee of the WSAVA, a global community of more than 200,000 veterinarians worldwide, issued a set of guidelines for veterinary professionals to help them offer advice to concerned clients. I’d like to share some of the points to hopefully help you ease some concerns and increase your understanding of the current situation.
Can COVID-19 affect domestic animals?
According to WSAVA and the CDC, there is currently no evidence that pets can be infected, nor is there evidence that pets might be a source of infection to people.
Should I avoid contact with my cat or other animals if I’m sick?
The CDC recommends the following: “You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.”
What are the concerns about pets that have been in contact with people who have been infected with COVID-19?
For pet owners in areas where human cases have been identified, WSAVA’s advice is to continue take standard precautions: Wash your hands before and after interacting with your pet and, if you are sick, wear a face mask when around them.
What should I do if my cat gets sick after being around a person infected with COVID-19?
We don’t yet know if companion animals can get infected by SARS-Cov-2 or sick with COVID-19. If your cat develops an unexplained illness and has been exposed to a person infected with COVID-19, WSAVA recommends talking to the public health official working with the person infected with COVID-19. If your area has a public health veterinarian, the public health official will consult with them or another appropriate official. If the state public health veterinarian, or other public health official, advises you to take your pet to a veterinary clinic, call your veterinary clinic before you go to let them know that you are bringing a sick pet that has been exposed to a person infected with COVID-19. This will allow the clinic time to prepare an isolation area. Do not take the animal to a veterinary clinic unless you are instructed to do so by a public health official.
You can read the full WSAVA guidelines here.
More resources about COVID-19 and pets
This is an excellent article by Dr. Niels Pedersen, DVM, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Director of the Center for Companion Animal Health and Director of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Pedersen is best known in cat circles for his groundbreaking FIP research.
Given that this is a developing situation, the best advice I can give you is to remain informed, but don’t panic. I agree with feline veterinarian Dr. Andrea Tasi, the owner of Just Cats, Naturally, who says that at this point, she’s not particularly worried. “The fear of this disease scares me more than the disease itself; like I always say: decisions based mainly on fear are rarely good ones.”
I will update this article as new information becomes available. In the meantime, I encourage you, as you should with any news, to consider the source before you panic. And you probably don’t need to go as far as some Chinese cat parents, who started putting masks on their cats, although their fears, given their closer proximity to the outbreak epicenter, are certainly understandable.
This article, published in Scientific American, is one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject to date. It contains solid information on how to prepare for the possibility of an outbreak in this country, without all the hype and fear mongering of some of the traditional media outlets.
While it seems a bit silly that we would need a tutorial on how to wash our hands to prevent spreading this or any other viruses and germs,I’d be willing to bet that most of us don’t usually spend an entire 20 seconds on this task.
A brilliant piece by David Michie, the international bestselling author of the Dalai Lama’s Cat book series and other books on mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism.
“For most of us, the main challenge we face is not physical, but mental: how to deal with the stressors of living with a new biological threat. Many of us are experiencing these already: our pension/401k/superannuation has just slumped in value, directly impacting on our retirement income. Should we ride out the storm or move to cash? … What if we are older, or already have compromised respiratory systems – can we risk going to that conference/party and how much can we trust using public transport?
What we need to do is to make the best call we can about such decisions, then move on, reviewing matters only if the information changes. What we tend to do is to make a decision, then worry it’s not the right one. Or to dither, anxiously, fretting over every article or story we hear that challenges our point of view. Our problem is no longer the coronavirus. It is managing our thoughts about the coronavirus.”