Cats and Coronavirus – Indoors or Out?

Cat staring out of window

There’s been a lot of worry recently about cats and coronavirus, and this has culminated today in some very panicky reports from otherwise reputable news services. In this blog, we’re going to quickly explore the ins and outs, and look at what the real risks are.

Do cats get coronaviruses?

Yes – cats have their own coronavirus, feline coronavirus, that usually causes mild diarrhoea. Very rarely, it can cause Feline Infectious Peritonitis. However, it is not able to infect humans.

But what about the human one, Covid-19?

OK, this is an interesting point. Yes, there are a very, very small number of cases where cats have contracted the Covid-19 virus (technically, CoV-SARS-2). Some of these cats have, apparently, shown clinical signs (respiratory or gastrointestinal); however, this is not well understood and there may be other factors at play. It is not yet confirmed that the coronavirus was the cause of the symptoms – however, we must assume that it is at least possible. There has also been an experimental study that showed that some cats, in specific circumstances, and exposed to a massively high virus load, can develop infection.

What about other pets?

There have been reports of 2 dogs who tested positive (but had no symptoms). There is also a group of tigers in the US who have also tested positive, and may have had symptoms (but this isn’t confirmed). Some studies also suggest that ferrets may be at risk.

You can read more details about this in our blog here.

Are they a risk to people?

There is no evidence at this time that cats can spread infection to humans. Every one of the (very few) cases so far appears to involve cats catching the virus from humans but not (and this is crucial) spreading it to other humans.

It is possible that a cat could carry the virus on their coat for a short period of time – but there haven’t been any confirmed cases where this is known to be the cause of infection.

However… we would strongly advise following the government’s advice about washing hands thoroughly after contact with a cat who might (even possibly) have come into contact with someone shedding the virus. And sadly, that also means no more kisses or shared meals… While the risk is low, it isn’t zero, so good hygiene is vitally important.

What about the reports on the news that the British Veterinary Association recommends cats be kept inside?

Unfortunately, the advice appears to have been misinterpreted.

The BVA president, Daniella Dos Santos has today confirmed that they are not recommending that all cats be kept indoors. The advice was limited to cats living with people who are self-isolating (for example, those at higher risk), or have been suspected or confirmed to be infected. This was to reduce the (very small) risk that they might carry the virus between households. She also went on to point out that not all cats can safely or humanely be kept indoors. Cats are prone to a wide range of stress-related disorders, and changing their routine can be disastrous for their health.

Should I keep my cat indoors anyway?

While indoor cats are at lower risk for a wide range of health problems, such as infectious disease and trauma from cars, dogs and other cats; there are also disadvantages. These typically revolve around the need to provide a suitably stimulating environment. This is a decision that really needs to be made on a case-by-case basis – you can read the details here.

Where can I find more information?

The official guidance for animal owners from the BVA can be found here.

UK Government guidance and regulations are here.

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