Veterinary scientists have recommended cat owners keep their pets indoors to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But the British Veterinary Association said “owners should not worry” about any risk of infection from their pets.
“There isn’t a single case of a pet dog or cat infecting a human with Covid-19,” Dr Angel Almendros, from City University in Hong Kong, told BBC News.
Research has shown cats may be able to catch the virus from other cats.
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To prevent any risk of pets carrying the virus from owners’ hands in their fur, British Veterinary Association (BVA), president Daniella Dos Santos encouraged owners to take “sensible precautions”.
“Practise good hand hygiene, try and keep cats indoors,” she said.
“Avoid unnecessary contact with your pets, such a hugging or allowing them to lick your face, and do not touch other people’s dogs when on walks.”
In a recent paper on the subject, Dr Angel Almendros referred to the case of a 17-year-old pet dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for the Covid-19 virus – apparently infected by its owner.
“But even where we have these positive results, the animals are not becoming sick,” he said.
“As in the previous Sars-Cov outbreak in Hong Kong, in 2003, where a number of pets were infected but never became sick, there is no evidence that dogs or cats could become sick or infect people.”
How is the disease transmitted from humans to animals?
It appears cats may be susceptible to infection from respiratory droplets – virus particles suspended in air that people cough, sneeze or breathe out.
Following a case in Belgium where a cat tested positive about a week after its owner showed symptoms, scientists in China carried out lab tests that provided evidence of infected cats transmitting the virus to other cats.
“It is interesting to note in the experimental evidence that cats can become infected, alongside the apparent infection of a tiger [at Bronx Zoo in New York],” Prof Bryan Charleston, director of the UK’s Pirbright Institute, which specialises in the study of infectious disease, said.
And the “evidence on the transmissibility” from humans to other animals was building.
Corbis via Getty Images
One of the Bronx Zoo’s Malayan tigers
There is also evidence humans can transmit respiratory infections to wild great apes, which makes the global spread of Covid-19 a concern for conservationists working to protect critically endangered animals, including gorillas.
In all of these cases though, it is infected humans that pose the threat to other species.
“We know that the virus did make the jump from an animal into humans [at the beginning of this crisis] but that appears to be because people were eating those infected animals,” Prof Charleston said.
There is no evidence animals can pass this disease back to people.
Why should I keep my cat indoors in that case?
The British Veterinary Association points out that, like any surface, an animal’s fur could carry the virus for a time “if a pet were to have come into contact with someone who was sick”.
And that is why vets are recommending the advice to stay at home is extended to our pets.
“Treat pets like other people in your household. So if you’re feeling sick, it’s better not to interact with them,” said Dr Almendros.
“I hope pet owners can sleep a bit better with the right advice and information,” he added. “It isn’t easy these days, I know.”
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