We’ve all got into the habit of social distancing, but did you know our pets should be keeping to the 2- meter rule as well? According to the FDA, that’s exactly what should be happening. Until recently, it was thought the COVID pandemic was a human-only concern… and then more and more animals started testing positively. As Business Insider reports, the first to fall victim to the disease was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo. But if there’s one thing we know about COVID, it likes to spread. Since that first positive testing, four more tigers and three lions have tested positive. Several domestic cats in New York have also been diagnosed with the disease, including one from a household where all the human occupants tested negative. In other parts of the world, it’s the same story, with a number of cats in Hong Kong and Belgium all testing positive after displaying mild symptoms. Dogs haven’t been left out of the fun either, with three testing positive thus far (although thankfully for dog owners, canines are believed to be more resistant to catching COVID than cats).
On the plus side, the evidence of pets being able to transmit the infection to humans is extremely low, with the FDA noting, “Based on the limited information available, the chance of pets spreading COVID-19 (among humans) is low. At this time, there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus.” There is a chance, however, that a sickly cat could pass on the disease to another cat… a problem that obviously increases exponentially if cats are allowed to roam freely. As Annette O’Connor, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University’s college of veterinary medicine, explained to Business Insider: “We don’t know where cats go when they’re outside. “Perhaps they go to the neighbor, and the neighbor is COVID positive.”
With the symptoms of the disease (including fever, respiratory problems, nasal discharge, vomiting, and diarrhea) being just as unpleasant for cats as they are for humans, there’s clearly a call to action here. But while it’s easy enough for us to understand the need and practicalities of social distancing, it becomes an altogether more complicated matter when we introduce cats into the equation. Even at the best of times, most cats are loathed to do anything but what they want, when they want. So, how do we get them to start practicing social distancing? Simply put, we can’t. If you let your cat outside, you’re relinquishing any control (and most of the time, any knowledge) of what they do and who they see. The first sign you’ll have that they’ve come into contact with a COVID carrying cat from the neighborhood is when they come down with it themselves.
For now, then, the most you can do is keep your cats inside, and to avoid interacting with them if you show symptoms yourself. According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, pet owners who are symptomatic should “avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sleeping in the same location, and sharing food or bedding.” Easy advice, perhaps, but slightly problematic in reality. If your kitty’s used to snuggling down with you while you watch TV, or if you’re the only one in the house who knows exactly what proportion of kibble to wet food they like, how do you tell your cat in the politest and most efficient way to ‘back off’? And what do you do if you’re a multi-pet household with just one symptomatic puss?
Although it can sometimes be easier said than done, the safest way of handling both problems is by drawing in outside help. If you have a friend or family member with no pets of their own, ask whether they’d mind taking care of your cat if you’re the one who’s sick, or the healthy cat while you take care of the sickly one. But now for the greater challenge… if your cat is used to having free reign of the neighborhood, how do you get them to accept that, for now at least, the great outdoors is off-limits? Unfortunately, it means you’re going to have to take a break from slumping in front of Netflix and start getting creative.
As Katzenworld recommends, the first thing you’ll need to do for any cat that’s used to coming and going freely (and presumably doing their business outside) is to set up a litter tray. Aim for as many litter trays as you have cats (felines aren’t known for their love of sharing) and try to set it up in a quiet corner where they can do their business in peace.
Job done, start looking for ways of keeping them busy. A scratching post is a must (if they’re used to sharpening their claws on trees or the legs of passing mailmen, it’s the only thing that’ll ensure your furniture survives the experience unscathed), although just be sure to choose one that’s long and hefty enough to stand up to their weight. Try creating a number of hiding places (cardboard boxes placed in several strategic places should do) as well as a peaceful little corner where they can retreat in comfort. When it comes to games, look for options that allow your cat to play independently when the need arises, but that also lets you join in on the fun when you can.
Most of all, give them time. It’s likely your cat will be feeling a little disorientated by the change, so try to give them as much reassurance and affection as you can… while keeping your distance where needed, of course.