As a pet-parent, one of your first thoughts is probably how to keep your cat healthy and safe from coronavirus. Can cats get COVID-19 or can coronavirus in cats be transmitted to us? We’re here to answer your most pressings questions about cat coronavirus.
Keeping your feline safe from cat coronavirus:
- Avoid keeping multiple cats together.
- Practice good hygiene at home.
- Distance yourself from your cat if you’re ill.
- Keep up to date with vaccines and check-ups.
- Consult your vet if your cat gets sick.
Can my cat get coronavirus?
Before anything else, it’s essential to know that coronaviruses are an extensive family of viruses—these can cause anything from cold-like sickness to respiratory issues (1).
Some infect humans, and others cause illnesses in certain animals, including cattle, bats, and camels. Specific types, like canine and feline coronaviruses, only affect animals.
Although the exact source is unknown, experts suspect this is what happened with the strain causing our current COVID-19 outbreak. Officials initially linked the infection to a live animal market in Wuhan, China. Now, it’s mostly spreading between people.
The virus causing COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets produced from sneezing, coughing, and talking. Even if you’re not showing symptoms, you could still infect others—hence social distancing is a must!
However, at this time, experts remain skeptical as to whether pets can catch the COVID-19 strain. As of now, there’s no evidence in the U.S. that domestic cats are bearers of the virus.
What should I do if I think my cat has coronavirus?
Even though coronavirus in cats is common, the chances that your kitty has contracted COVID-19 are highly unlikely, despite reports circling the Internet claiming that cats and dogs have contracted the virus from their owners.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that there’s no evidence to support that a domestic pet has transmitted the illness to humans. However, since the virus is still quite new, experts can’t say for sure if cats can be potential hosts, spreading the bug to owners (2).
Still, if you start to notice that your feline isn’t their usual self, consult your veterinarian.
Don’t bring your cat to the vet without calling in first. Due to the current pandemic, hospitals and clinics follow new protocols to keep everyone safe, including veterinarians and staff.
If your vet recommends that you bring your cat in, follow the current protocols, and keep at a distance from people. This is to protect yourself and them.
If you’ve tested positive for the COVID-19 or you’ve been ordered to self-isolate because of exposure or symptoms, stay home. Get a family member or friend to take your cat to the vet.
Can I get my cat tested for COVID-19?
On March 13, 2020, a test for cats did become available through IDEXX Laboratories. Still, because there’s not a significant outbreak of COVID-19 among domestic cats and pets in general, experts don’t recommend that you get your cat tested.
IDEXX claims to have collected samples from multiple dogs and cats, but that there are no positive cases (3). This supports the current findings that the primary way of transmission is human to human.
What is Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV)?
Feline enteric coronavirus is another strain from the coronavirus family, but it mainly infects cats. This type of feline coronavirus virus an infection in the mature gastrointestinal epithelial cells, residing in the intestinal tract.
Surprisingly, it’s quite common, especially in places or homes where several cats are living together, sharing litter boxes and food trays. It’s generally a chronic condition, which affects kittens from a young age—usually around nine weeks old—where infected cats spread the virus through their poop (4).
Some cats are showing immunity, but in others, the virus has proved to mutate.
What happens is following the initial infection with the coronavirus in cats, bits of that germ may begin to mutate, thus changing its form. Now, instead of infecting the intestinal tract, the mutant strain travels to the lymph nodes and abdomen.
From there, it infects the macrophages, which are specialized cells the body uses to detect and destroy harmful bacteria and organisms (5).
Here, it has established a new disease called feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV). What’s more, this tends to lead to a more severe illness: feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
Fortunately, it seems that the mutation of FECV tends to primarily occur when several infected cats are living in close proximity. In other words, if you only have two cats at home, the chances are low.
What are the symptoms of FECV?
Most cats infected with feline coronavirus don’t show any symptoms through the initial infection. They may experience the occasional bout of diarrhea or mild upper respiratory signs but should recover quickly without treatment.
The majority of infected cats develop an immune response, where their body produces antibodies to fight the virus. This usually occurs around seven to 10 days following infection.
With that said, if your cat has contracted the mutated strain of FECV, the FIPV, they’ll experience an intense inflammatory reaction. Initially, your cat may show non-specific signs, including loss of appetite, depression, fever, and weight loss (6).
FIP occurs due to a reaction between the body’s own immune system and the virus. Once your cat develops clinical FIP, the disease is generally progressive and, in most cases, fatal for the cat.
As it evolves into FIP, they might experience seizures and ataxia, which are abnormal and uncoordinated movements. Further symptoms include accumulation of fluid in different body cavities, such as the thorax and abdomen—the affected may have a pot-bellied look.
If the gathering of fluid becomes excessive, it gets harder for the cat to breathe normally.
Luckily, there is a treatment available now, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is yet to approve it.
How do I protect my cat from FECV?
Because of the ubiquitous nature of FECV, experts deem that prevention in multiple-cat households and catteries is impractical (7). Although, a vaccine is available, which could be worth a try if you only have one or two cats.
There’s also a vaccine available for FIP. However, it’s not a guarantee—in some cases, it has shown to exacerbate the disease (8). So, it’s essential to weigh out the potential risks and benefits before applying it.
Instead of focusing on a vaccine, it’s best to keep cats in smaller groups. For instance, if you have six felines at home, divide them into two groups and place them in different quarters. This can prevent the spread and potential mutation of FECV, which should protect your cats.
Can I get COVID-19 from my cat?
With outdoor cats, it’s only natural to worry if they could potentially get infected and bring the virus home. And your worries aren’t without reason.
In some cases, certain strains of the coronaviruses seen in animals spread to humans, who then infect more people. This occurred back in 2003 and 2012, with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and later the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)—both are examples of Coronaviruses (9).
Although there are still some grey areas, it’s currently not likely that coronavirus in cats spreads to their owners. At the moment, there’s no evidence that cats and other pets are threats to their parents.
Can cats carry the coronavirus on their fur?
The quick answer is no, and yes.
The risk is very low, but it isn’t zero. The coronavirus has been shown to survive on various surfaces—if you touch that surface and bring your hand to either your mouth, nose, or eyes, you could get infected. This is also why handwashing is so important during this pandemic.
With that said, it seems that we’re posing a more significant threat to our cats than they are to us.
Should I stay away from my cat if I think I could have the Coronavirus?
For starters, if you suspect that you have the COVID-19, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that you stay home. Consult your doctor via telephone. They may bring you in to get tested—luckily, most people only experience mild flu-like symptoms and can recover at home (10).
When it comes to animals, there have been reports of people transmitting the virus to them after close contact. One example that made headlines is the tiger at a New York City zoo who displayed a respiratory illness. Following some investigation, it’s believed that the big cat got the virus from a COVID-19-positive employee at the zoo.
The CDC stresses that more studies are needed to provide conclusive answers as to how exactly the virus spreads from human to animal.
So what should we do if our cat gets infected?
The best thing to do is treat your cat as you’d treat any other members of your family. We’ve gathered some tips below:
- If possible, get a family member or friend to care for your cat. Keep yourself in a separate room and use a private bathroom until the infection passes.
- If you must care for your cat alone, wear a mask whenever in close contact. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after petting.
- Don’t run errands for cat food and other supplies. Even if you’re not showing symptoms, you’re still a threat to the general public, where someone might get severely sick (11). Get a family member or friend to buy a few week’s supplies of food and litter for your cat.
- Remain in self-isolation until you haven’t shown symptoms (without taking medicine) for 72 hours (three days). If you were proven positive through testing, you need to pass two tests 24 hours apart. Consult your doctor for precise instructions (12).
How can I prepare for my cat’s needs during the pandemic?
During this stressful time, it’s a priority to ensure our cats have what they need should quarantine be required. Here are a few tips:
- Stock up on a two to four week supply of food and medicine, including prescription medication, litter, and other supplies—don’t forget the treats.
- Select an emergency caregiver in case you fall ill and can’t care for your cat. This could be a family member, trusted friend, or your usual boarding facility.
- Ensure that your cat’s medical records, preventative medication, and vaccines are up to date. This makes it easier in case you need to board them at a facility or friend’s house.
- Always practice good hygiene when around your kitty. Wash your hands both before and after petting, and ensure that they’re kept well-groomed. If possible, bath them regularly and clean their food and water bowls, bedding, and toys routinely.
- Unless you’ve contracted COVID-19, you can easily continue interacting normally with your cat. This could include playing, cuddling, and walking (13).
- Don’t share dishes, utensils, drinking glasses, towels, or bedding with your pets, or other people at home.
Can my cat still go outside under the new shelter-in-place orders?
It depends. Some are suggesting that you keep your cat indoors since experts aren’t entirely sure whether they can carry the virus on their fur. So having your cat at home would remove any risk. This isn’t only for your own sake, but also for others in case you have contracted the virus.
If your cat is used to being outdoors, it may be stressful for them to be suddenly contained. Use common sense —if you live in a secluded area with limited people around you, your cat can easily continue roaming the backyard.
If, however, you live in a densely populated neighborhood, and your cat is friendly with strangers, consider keeping them indoors (14). If your kitty likes to visit neighbors, call and ask them not to let it in, and avoid touching it. You could even put a paper collar on your cat with a small message.
While we all love to snuggle with a new fluffy friend, you should avoid touching cats that aren’t your own. Keep to the social distancing rules and help flatten the curve.
Stay home, stay safe
During this uneasy time, it’s essential to know how to keep your cat healthy and safe from the coronavirus.
Keep in mind that it isn’t likely for them to contract COVID-19, but they may get the cat coronavirus, FECV. Fortunately, this isn’t usually a serious condition, and many felines live a full life without complications.
Remember to protect yourself and your cat by social distancing—store up on supplies, and practice good hygiene.