Vets offer reassurance after pet cat tests positive for Covid-19 in the UK

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27 July 2020
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The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued advice for pet owners after it emerged that the virus responsible for Covid-19 had been detected in a pet cat in England, in the first such known case in the UK.

A statement issued by Defra today (Monday July 27, 2020) said that the infection was confirmed following tests at the Animal Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratory in Weybridge on Wednesday July 22.

A private vet diagnosed the pet with feline herpes, a common respiratory infection in cats, but the sample was also tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus as part of a research programme. Follow-up tests at the APHA laboratory confirmed that the cat was simultaneously infected with this virus.

The government has emphasised that all available evidence suggests that the cat contracted the coronavirus from its owners, who had previously tested positive for Covid-19. The cat and its owners have since made a full recovery and no other animals or people in the household were affected.

Staff at the veterinary practice where the cat was treated were aware of the household’s Covid-19 status and were not impacted by the virus.

Responding to the news, BVA President Daniella Dos Santos said:

“While pet owners may be worried by this news, we’d like to emphasise that there continues to be no evidence that infected pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners. There have been a tiny number of cases of Covid-19 in domestic animals worldwide and in all cases, it appears likely that the transmission was from infected humans to animals.

“We have been in touch with vets in Government and the local veterinary practice for information and have been informed that the cat only showed mild clinical signs and has since made a full recovery.

“Our advice to pet owners who have Covid-19 or who are self-isolating with symptoms remains to restrict contact with their pets as a precautionary measure and to practise good hygiene, including regular handwashing.

“We also recommend that owners who are confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19 should keep their cat indoors if possible, but only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors. Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.

“It is also the case that animals may act as fomites, as the virus could be on their fur in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs. That’s why good hand hygiene remains important.”

BVA has issued the following advice for pet owners confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19:

1. Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary measure.

2. If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.

3. Keep cats indoors if possible, and only if they are happy to be indoors. Try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practise good hand hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals can pass Covid-19 to humans.

4. If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice first and alert them to the household’s status. 

5. If your pet requires essential treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.

More BVA guidance for pet owners is available at: www.bva.co.uk/coronavirus

The latest government guidance on how to continue to care for pet animals during the coronavirus pandemic can be viewed at: www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-people-with-animals

The RSPCA has also responded to the news:

“We would like to reassure pet owners that despite the news that a pet cat has tested positive for Coronavirus in the UK, there is still no evidence to suggest that people can catch COVID-19 from their pets.

“A very small number of animals have been reported to have tested positive for, or shown symptoms of, COVID-19. Some of these animals were deliberately exposed to the disease in an artificial setting which did not represent real life. The others were cases where the virus has reportedly been passed from a person to an animal. Importantly, to date, there is no known evidence of the virus passing from pets to humans.

“Therefore, we would urge people not to be alarmed and to continue to take sensible precautions, as we would advise at any time, such as washing your hands before and after stroking your cat. This is because like human hands, pet fur could carry the virus and so it is important to adopt good hygiene when interacting with our pets, especially if they could have been in contact with other people.  This is good advice at any time and not specific to the Coronavirus situation. This means thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after interacting with them and avoiding being kissed or licked and sharing food with them.

“Information on how pet owners can take steps to keep themselves and their animals as safe as possible during this time can be found on our website: www.rspca.org.uk/-/we-re-reassuring-cat-owners-during-coronavirus-crisis"