Since COVID-19 started to cut its devastating swathe through the world, there’s at least been one crumb of hope to keep us going – even if we get it, our pets are safe. Cats can’t catch COVID, they’ve said. Dog’s are immune, they’re suggested. Turns out, they were wrong. It seems that not only do we have to worry about our parents, our kids, and, of course, ourselves getting the virus, now we have to worry about the family pet doing the same… at least if the recent diagnosis of the UK’s first cat with COVID is anything to go by.
On Monday, July 27, the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and Animal and Plant Health Agency announced via a joint statement that a pet cat in England had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the same virus that causes COVID-19 in people. Both agencies were keen to play down the incident, with Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss saying, “This is a very rare event with infected animals detected to date only showing mild clinical signs and recovering within a few days. There is no evidence to suggest that pets directly transmit the virus to humans. We will continue to monitor this situation closely and will update our guidance to pet owners should the situation change.”
“This is the first case of a domestic cat testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK but should not be a cause for alarm,” Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, echoed. “The investigation into this case suggests that the infection was spread from humans to animals and not the other way around. At this time, there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease to humans.” But should we be worried anyway? And what can we do to mitigate the risk of our own pet’s catching the virus?
Should we be worried?
While this is the first time a cat in the UK has been diagnosed with the virus, there’s currently no suggestion that either it, or any other infected animal, can pass the disease onto humans. It does, however, suggest that animals can catch it from us, which is what’s believed to have happened in this case and other similar incidents across the globe. As Fox News reports, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive after exposure to the virus by an infected worker, and several pet dogs have been similarly infected through their owners. Worryingly, it seems that while it’s very rare indeed for a virus to transmit from humans to animals, once it happens, it’s then possible for the infected animal to pass the disease onto other members of their species, even if they remain symptomless themselves. So, what should we be doing to protect them?
How to protect your pet from coronavirus
Before we delve too deeply into what you can do to help keep your pet safe from COVID, just remember that the chances of them becoming infected, even if you or another member of the household has the disease, are remarkably slim. As cdc.gov notes, the number of pets that have been infected with the disease compared to the number of pet owners who have it is fractional. What’s more, how the infection makes itself known in animals is a completely different proposition to how it does the same in humans. Most infected animals are likely to be either completely a-symptomatic or display only very minor symptoms.
But all that being said, even the smallest risk is still a risk, and no pet owner wants to see their cat or dog suffering even slightly, especially if there’s a way of avoiding it. So, how exactly can you avoid it? Is it even possible to protect your pet from catching the disease? Fortunately, it is. If neither you nor anyone else in your household has COVID or has been exposed to someone who does, then you can continue to pet, feed, and walk your pet as normal. However, play it safe by avoiding or limiting their contact with other pets in the neighborhood, at least for now. While human-animal cross-infection is extremely rare, animals from the same species tend to spread the disease more easily between themselves. If your cat is allowed to roam the streets freely, now might be the time to consider restricting them to the house for a while.
Similarly, while you should in no way limit your dog’s daily walks, try to avoid crowded parks where dogs are allowed to play off the leash. One thing you should not even think of doing is popping a mask on them. While more and more of us are taking to wearing facemasks while out in public, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that masks are effective for pets. Instead of protecting them, a mask is likely to cause more problems than it solves, triggering respiratory problems, anxiety, and overheating.
Can I get my pet tested for COVID?
If your pet is sick and is displaying any symptoms of coronavirus, then speak to your vet as soon as possible. As PetMD notes, your vet will assess whether a test (Idexx SARS-CoV-2 Real PCR Test is typically used) is necessary, and if they deem it to be the case, will consult with a public health authority regarding the next steps if any of the following criteria applies:
- The pet comes from a household where someone has COVID- 19.
- Tests for other causes of their infection have been completed and come back negative.
- They are showing clinical signs consistent with COVID -19.
If the test does come back positive (and remember, the chances of it doing this are extremely slender. There may have been nearly 15 million cases of COVID in the human population, but there’s only been a handful of cases in animals), then don’t panic. The vast majority of COVID cases in pets have been incredibly mild, with most of those that have been diagnosed already having shown a full recovery.