Common questions on COVID-19 and cats
Note: These recommendations are based on the ABCD guidelines on SARS CoV-2. The guidelines are freely available online and are updated regularly as new data are published.
Updated 31 January, 2021
What is the risk of a SARS-CoV-2 positive person infecting his or her cat?
To date, only few cats have been identified as infected following contact with SARS-CoV-2-positive people. To reduce the risk of infection, close contact with pet cats should be avoided in households where people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 or have symptoms of COVID-19. However, cats should not be rehomed or relinquished.
What is the risk of a SARS-CoV-2 positive cat infecting his or her owner?
At the time of writing, no transmission event from cats to humans has been reported. More than 100 million human COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide and human-to-human transmission is the main route of infection.
What are the clinical signs linked to SARS-CoV-2 infection in cats?
Following experimental infection, infectious virus was found in the upper respiratory tract, so respiratory signs might develop, or infection could be subclinical. Kittens were more susceptible following experimental infection compared to young adult cats, and infectious virus was isolated from the intestines of experimentally infected kittens, but not from young adult cats. The clinical signs that might be seen include respiratory signs, enteric signs, or infections might be subclinical in some animals.
What should (self-isolating) SARS-CoV-2 positive people do if they have a cat?
Contacts between COVID-19 patients and their pets should be limited to a minimum. However, cats in such households should remain in their home. It is preferable that they are looked after by another, asymptomatic, member of the household.
What should be done with the cat if the owner needs to go to hospital?
If the patient lives alone or needs to be hospitalised, the cat should remain at home and be cared for by friends or family of the patient, observing strict hygiene measures upon entering/leaving the home. It is not recommended to rehome, isolate or even euthanise cats in these circumstances.
Can cats carry the virus on their fur and should they be disinfected?
Although it has not been proven, it is possible that fomite transmission could occur via pets. Cats themselves should not be disinfected, only inanimate materials. However, strict hygiene should be observed by the owners (washing hands after contact with cats) and close physical contact with cats (e.g., licking face, sharing food or towels) should be avoided.
Should vets be testing such cats routinely?
The testing of cats for SARS-CoV-2 infection is not recommended; tests and reagents must be prioritised for human testing.
What measures should cat owners take in COVID-19 affected areas?
There is a risk of cats contracting SARS-CoV-2 from their owner, but the risk is minimised if standard hygiene measures are observed: avoid too close contact (e.g., licking face, sharing food or towels), washing their hands with water and soap for at least 20 s (the WHO recommends even 40 s) before and after being near or handling their animals, and regularly cleaning the litter box. This will minimise the risk of any zoonotic diseases.
ABCD Europe gratefully acknowledges the support of Boehringer Ingelheim (the founding sponsor of the ABCD) and Virbac.