Since it began in China all those months ago, Coronavirus has turned the world on its head. Borders are closed, schools are shut, entire cities are in quarantine, and economies are facing ruin. Even Tom Hanks has it…. which begs the question, who’s next? Fortunately for cat owners the world over, the chances of it being your pet are slim to none. Despite the sudden uptake in “pet face masks”, the possibility of COVID-19 making the leap from humans to other species is about as likely as an innocent sneeze. For a viral strain to pose a cross-species risk, it has to undergo a significant genetic mutation first… and trust us (or at least scientists) when we say no virus is going to go to the time and effort of mutating when it’s having so much fun in its present form.
According to Dr. Jamie Richardson, Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, “It’s unlikely the dog and cat population will be able to get COVID-19 as we know it right now”. And so agree the World Health Organization, and so agrees the New York State Veterinary Medical Society, who’ve just released a pamphlet proclaiming, “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread the coronavirus.”
Coronavirus and Cats
So, if cats can’t catch Coronavirus from us, are we home scot-free? Can we ditch the hand sanitizer and get back to petting them as normal? Yes… and no. While it’s true that cats stand next to no chance of catching COVID-19 from us at the moment, they do have a strain all of their own to worry about. The feline specific strain of Coronavirus, while rare, can be unpleasant, and in some cases, even fatal. Mild forms usually make themselves known in upset tummies and diarrhea, but won’t cause anything more than that. Severe symptoms, however, can occur when the virus mutates into the potentially fatal feline infectious peritonitis. Although it’s unknown why some cats are more susceptible to FIP than others, what we do know is that if there’s any chance of avoiding it, then it’s a chance you should grab with both hands.
How to Pet Your Cat During the Coronavirus Outbreak
The first step in reducing your cat’s risk of catching coronavirus (or indeed, anything else) is to practice good hygiene. Before you pet your cat, especially if you’ve been outside, wash your hands thoroughly. If you picked up some germs from another cat, you won’t notice any ill effects yourself, but there’s a chance you could transfer them to your own pet, who most certainly might. If your cat does become ill, or if you’re aware of any sick cats in the neighborhood, keep them indoors. As well as limiting their interaction with other animals, it’ll also mean they don’t make or take a fancy to any “droppings” that could spell disaster.
If you have a multi cat-household, isolate any sick cat immediately, making sure that any communal areas are strictly out of bounds. Set up a sick room with water, food, and a litter tray, and keep them safely quarantined until the danger period has passed. Avoid “cross-petting”: sick cats generally prefer to be left alone in any case, but after any contact with them whatsoever, make sure to thoroughly disinfect yourself before petting any of your other cats. If at all feasible, you might want to consider asking a friend or relative to take in the other cats for a short time.
Coronavirus and You
While there’s no indication to suggest the increase in COVID-19 will have any impact whatsoever on the number of coronavirus cases in felines, it always pays to be vigilant. Preparation and prevention are always preferable to last minute panics and runs to the pet pharmacy. Equally, while the chances of your cat catching the human strain of coronavirus are next to zero, it may be wise to restrict your contact with them as much as possible if you yourself develop any symptoms. Leave their petting and care to an uninfected member of the household if possible, and if not, be vigilant about washing your hands before feeding or interacting with them (20 seconds of washing with soap and water should be enough, although the extra cautious might also want to invest in some hand sanitizer- if you fall into this category, just make sure to choose one with at least 60% alcohol content), and wear a face mask whenever you’re around them.
If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, limiting your interactions with your cat isn’t just for their benefit. While they’re unlikely to suffer any negative effects themselves, they might unwittingly pass on your infection to the next person who pets them. “If somebody who has [COVID-19] is coughing on their hand and then petting their [cat], there is the possibility of transmission,” West Village Veterinary Hospital‘s Dr. Daniel Smith told The Post. “But I think it’s a very low likelihood … we don’t know enough.”
Low likelihood or not, if there’s any chance at all of you passing on the infection to another person via your cat, staying on the safe side and taking extra pre-cautions is probably wise. It’s also good to plan ahead; consider whether there’s anyone you trust who can take of your pet in the event you become to unwell to do it yourself, whether that’s for a few days or a few weeks. Making a list of everything their temporary caregiver might need to know about your pet (food preferences, any medicines they need to take, emergency vet contact numbers, vaccination records, behavioral norms, etc.) can help ease the transition on both sides. So, that’s it. For now, it’s business as usual (plus a great deal of extra hand washing). But take care, both of you and your cat, and remember… always be safe, not sorry.