Can Cats Get Coronavirus?

The COVID-19 outbreak is on everyone's minds, but should you also be worried about coronavirus in cats?

Tired cat on an armchairLinda Raymond/Getty Images

Published March 13, 2020

Coronavirus in cats

It’s hard to escape news of the coronavirus these days—and if you have pets, you’re probably not only worried about the possibility of contracting the virus yourself, but also about coronavirus in cats.

Cat owners have most likely heard of coronavirus before—cats are routinely vaccinated against a species-specific strain of the virus that can cause mild digestive issues. But according to Zac Pilossoph, DVM, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance consulting veterinarian, in rare cases, this common feline coronavirus infection can turn into something more troubling.

“In less than one per cent of cats, there is a chance that they can develop a more severe type of coronavirus, called feline infectious peritonitis or FIP, which is fatal in almost 100 per cent of cases,” he explains. “FIP occurs via the virus mutating within the individual cat alone and finding a way to evade the normal immune system.” The better news is that FIP is not transmissible between cats.

COVID-19 and your cat

So far, it has not been proven that an animal can transmit COVID-19 to humans. There are several zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, the most well-known of which is rabies, but at this point, COVID-19 has not been found to be zoonotic. Nor has it been found to be anthropozoonotic, or transmissible from humans to animals, according to Dr. Pilossoph. “Continuous testing is being done globally on a regular basis to determine if this remains the case,” he says.

A dog in Hong Kong who recently tested positive for COVID-19 was most likely a passive carrier, says Dr. Pilossoph. “A passive carrier is a living creature that can help spread disease from one animal to another, without ever becoming infected themselves,” he explains. “To demonstrate the concept of passive carriers, pretend you were infected with the COVID-19 virus and you decided to snuggle your outdoor cat before letting it outside to roam the neighbourhood. Your cat, for a short amount of time, could pass virus particles to any human who subsequently pets them.”

In this scenario, your cat was a passive carrier for coronavirus infection, he says. “If you performed a coronavirus test on that same cat, it may test weakly positive, not because it’s infected with the virus, but because the virus is on them from your snuggle session.”

What should cat owners do to protect their pets?

For now, pet owners need not worry about their cats becoming infected with COVID-19. Since the virus has not been shown to pass from animals to humans, your four-legged friends are safe. That said, Dr. Pillossoph recommends keeping your cats close as a roaming cat could potentially become a passive carrier if it comes into contact with someone who has been exposed, which could then expose you.

As always, remember to follow these guidelines: wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, cough or sneeze into tissues or your elbow, and try to keep at least six feet away from people who are coughing or sneezing themselves.

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