Cats & Coronavirus: Can My Feline Friend Get COVID?

Diseases that spread from animals to humans and vice versa are called zoonotic diseases. Many pet parents are wondering if the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or as it is more commonly called, the coronavirus, can infect our beloved companion animals.

Since the pandemic lockdowns, many people have been in close contact with their pets, notably domestic cats and dogs. That has led many people to wonder if their fur babies can get SARS-CoV-2 infections too.

Other important questions that follow from that is whether or not pet cats and dogs could spread the disease to one another and their human friends too. Those are all great questions, so let’s dive into the answers.

Can Cats Get COVID-19?

why do cats make biscuits

In April of 2020, four tigers and two lions at the Bronx Zoo began exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus. The only sign of illness they developed was a dry cough. The animals were tested by the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa out of an abundance of caution. It was confirmed that they had SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The animals must have caught the virus from a zookeeper, although the specific mode of transmission remains unclear. You would expect the zookeeper would stay at least six feet away from a tiger. Perhaps they were able to get closer outside of the cage, or perhaps the animals’ food was contaminated.

Whatever the case, this caused scientists to wonder if pet dogs and cats can get the virus too. And if they can, can they spread it to humans?

Researchers in China investigated the question regarding pet cats, and they found that, in fact, domestic cats can get the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Of 102 cats the researchers tested, 15% tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

Of the 15% who were positive, three cats developed symptoms of the disease. Those three cats had the most antibodies, and they were the ones who had been living with people. The other cats were either strays or had been living in pet hospitals.

The same studies in China also tested other companion animals and farm animals, including dogs, ferrets, pigs, chickens, cows, and ducks. The results showed that the virus only affected ferrets and cats. The virus did not take hold in any of the other animals.

Subsequent investigations, however, have shown that both pet dogs and cats are susceptible to the virus. Two separate research groups in Canada and the Netherlands found that humans can transmit the coronavirus to both dogs and cats; though cats seem to become infected at higher rates than dogs.

The researchers also found that the virus did cause illness in these companion animals. The mild symptoms included typical signs of respiratory disease, like sneezing and a dry cough, and gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, as well as a general lack of energy.

Can Cats Give COVID to Their Pet Parents?

why does my cat lick me

Once it became clear that domestic cats and dogs can get the coronavirus, public health officials became more concerned about the possibility that these animals can act as reservoirs of disease for human transmission.

Determining whether or not cats are a major factor in the spread of COVID-19 is a little trickier than simply determining that infected cats were given the disease by an infected person. Early studies did show that cats can infect other cats. So there was a presumption that they might also be able to infect humans.

It wasn’t until an accident occurred that researchers could confirm that cats can give their human companions the disease too.

A researcher specializing in infectious diseases was working at the University of Yai in southern Thailand with a 10-year-old cat belonging to a family in which the father and son had tested positive for the coronavirus.

While swabbing the cat, it sneezed in the face of the researcher, who was not wearing eye protection. A few days later, the researcher developed symptoms and tested positive for the same strain of COVID that had infected the cat.

You are more likely to give it to your cat

cat food puzzle. pica in cats

There have also been other cases of animal species transmitting the virus to humans. Infections that spread to humans on a mink farm in Europe and from pet hamsters to their pet parents in Hong Kong, as well as from white-tailed deer to humans in Canada, have all shown these animals to be capable of spreading the virus to humans.

Researchers note, however, that the risk of cat-to-human transmission, while possible, is low. The studies demonstrate that infected cats don’t shed the virus for more than a few days. They also don’t shed a lot of the viral particles when they are contagious.

It’s far more likely that you might give your cat the virus than the other way around. This is particularly true because we tend to snuggle with them. The behavioral surveys conducted by researchers in Canada found that pet parents were more likely to cuddle closely with their cats — more so than with their dogs.

Still, the researchers caution that these findings don’t imply that you should abandon your fur babies; rather, you should take even better care of them. The risk of transmission from companion animals to pet parents is relatively low. Some simple precautions should be sufficient to prevent infection.

If you are sick, wear a mask and keep your distance from your animal friends until your symptoms pass, and if you notice they are having symptoms, avoid cuddling, wear a mask, and practice good hygiene by washing up after petting them.

Is COVID in Cats the Same as Feline Coronavirus?

can my cat get covid

If you’re a feline fanatic, you’ve probably heard of feline coronavirus. You may be wondering if it’s the same thing as the COVID-19 virus. The answer is that they are not the same thing. They both belong to a family of viruses that have been around for a long time and causes several different diseases.

Feline coronavirus causes feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP, which is derived from feline enteric coronavirus (FeCV). Cats that are infected with FeCV usually only have mild, occasional symptoms; but it is possible for one or more mutations of the FeCV virus to change its biological behavior so that it can actually infect the cat’s white blood cells. This is what is known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and it is almost always fatal for the cat.

But the COVID-19 virus is only distantly related to FeCV, and it does not cause FIP. Moreover, there is a vaccine that helps prevent FIP in cats.

What Should You Do if You or Your Cat Has COVID-19?

can my cat get covid

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), pet owners who have symptoms of COVID-19 should avoid all contact with their animals. They should:

  • Practice social distancing, as they do with people
  • practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of the infection.

Likewise, if you have a cat or dog that is showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection, such as shortness of breath, a dry cough, and lethargy, you want to take precautions when handling that animal. You should wear a mask, a face guard, and gloves as you care for your fur baby.

You will also want to isolate the infected animal so that they can’t give the disease to other animals in the household. Additionally, you can get a telemedicine appointment with your veterinarian as long as you have a pre-existing relationship with them. That will prevent you from exposing other animals or people to the virus.

Final Thoughts

cat in a cat bed

Your beloved feline and canine friends can get COVID-19, and there is a small risk that they could pass it to you. It’s still much more likely, however, that you will give it to them. 

Though this is something to pay attention to, and you should take the appropriate steps to prevent the spread of the disease, there is no reason to take extreme measures. 

You don’t need to abandon your fur babies. Just take the standard precautions to prevent yourself or other animals from becoming sick. This is, after all, how we take care of all of our loved ones.