Can cats catch Covid?

A pet cat in the UK has been diagnosed with Covid...
04 August 2020

Interview with 

Sarah Caddy, Cambridge University


a ginger tabby cat scratching itself


A couple of months ago we heard about Nadia the tiger at the Bronx Zoo in the US testing positive for coronavirus. And this week a 6 year old female Siamese cat made the news as the first animal to test positive for the disease in the UK. So could our pet cats and dogs be carrying the infection, and could they pass it on to us? Sarah Caddy is a vet and researcher at the University of Cambridge, and she spoke to Chris Smith...

Sarah - Well, from studies of cats in a laboratory, it seems that the majority of cats don't actually get any signs of disease at all. Even if you give them quite high doses of infection. But we don't actually know if this really reflects what happens in a real world. So we're recommending that cat owners look out for similar signs you'd see in a human for COVID-19.

Chris - Can they actually die of the disease or is it just generally trivial symptoms?

Sarah - There's been no cases that we know of that have died from the virus at all. The reported cases have only had very mild symptoms. So the cat in question UK, had a runny nose and possibly a little bit of difficulty breathing, but certainly nothing life threatening.

Chris - How do you think the cat got it then? And how do cats transmit the infection? The same way we do?

Sarah - The particular cat in the UK, we know the owners of this cat were diagnosed with COVID-19. So in this case, we know that it went from owner to cat. And the other cases that have been reported worldwide, we think is a very similar situation. In terms of transmission, we expect it to be very similar methods for human to human. So droplets or aerosols, or very close contact between cats or between cats and humans.

Chris - The critical question of course, Sarah, is if it can go from human to cat, can it come the other way?

Sarah - There's no evidence that this has occurred, but as it is theoretically possible, we are recommending that any humans with Covid symptoms are employing very careful hygiene around their own cats and making sure you're washing hands and avoiding really close contact if possible.

Chris - What about other family pets? Cause obviously some people are cat people, some people are dog people, some people keep birds. We've been asked about the risk of all of the above.

Sarah - Absolutely. Experimental studies have suggested that dogs don't become readily infected with the virus. But having said that, a number of dogs worldwide have been detected to have virus in their bodies. Some dogs are known to make an antibody response, or an immune response, to the virus suggesting very low levels of infection, but we don't think they're as susceptible as cats.

Chris - And what about pet birds? Cause someone wrote to me about their budgie. Is that at risk?

Sarah - Going back to again, the experimental infections, chickens and ducks showed no evidence of getting infected at all. And that's as far as we know about birds actually. So I'm certainly not worried about pet budgies.


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