How to Help Pet Owners Stay Calm About Coronavirus-Positive Cats
With reports of pets testing positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, pet owners will have questions. Use your expertise to help calm their fears.
The CDC and USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) announced the first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infection in two pet cats on Wednesday.¹ These are the first pets that have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the US.
Additionally, the Wildlife Conservation Society (the non-profit organization that runs the Bronx Zoo), announced on Wednesday that seven additional big cats at have tested positive for COVID-19.²
The two pet cats reside in separate areas in the state of New York. No persons in the home of the first cat were confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. Therefore, it is believed the virus may have been transmitted to this cat by a mildly ill or asymptomatic human family member or conceivably through interaction with an infected person outside of the cat’s home. The second cat showed signs of respiratory illness, prompting the veterinarian to take samples. The owner of the second cat reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 prior to their cat showing signs. Another cat in the same household has not shown any signs of illness, according to the CDC.¹ Both of the cats with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 are expected to make a full recovery.
In regard to the lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo, after the original Malayan tiger Nadia showed mild symptoms and tested positive, zoo personnel collected fecal samples from the other lions and tigers. It was found that a total of five tigers and three African lions had been infected.³ One of the tigers did not show any symptoms. The zoo reports that all eight big cats are behaving normally, eating well, and are expected to recover.
How to Answer the Tough Questions
As pet owners across the country hear of this news, veterinary teams should again prepare to answer questions. With the current state of the country and world, people are tense and extremely anxious about the health of their loved ones—including their pets.
Veterinary teams should be prepared to discuss with pet owners the concern that their pets may contract or spread COVID-19 to humans. Veterinary teams should continue to reinforce that infectious disease experts along with US and global human and animal health organizations are still learning about SARS-CoV-2, but there is still no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus. Consequently, veterinary teams need to reiterate that there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare.
In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease specialist, stressed after learning of the two pet cats in New York State, that “there is no evidence whatsoever that we’ve seen, from an epidemiological standpoint, that pets can be transmitters within the household.”4
Regarding pets, the AVMA is encouraging following the CDC’s recommendations1,4,5:
• Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
• Keep pet cats indoors to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
• Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
• Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
For pet owners that are sick with COVID-19, whether suspected or confirmed, it is recommended to restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as the owner would around other people4.
• When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
• Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
• If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
It is likely that more animals may test positive as infections continue in people; but owners should understand that the testing of animals does not reduce the test availability for humans. The tests differ. Both cats in New York tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a private veterinary laboratory, which then reported the results to state and federal officials. The confirmatory testing was conducted at NVSL and included collection of additional samples.
The NVSL is an international reference laboratory providing expertise on diagnostic techniques. Additionally, the NVSL provides confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases, which is required for specific animal diseases in the US to maintain compliance with national and international reporting procedures. As the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) considers SARS-CoV-2 an emerging disease, the USDA must comply, and report confirmed U.S. animal infections to the OI.1
(Read more tips on how to communicate with pet owners during COVID-19.)
Remember, these are stressful times. Everyone is anxious and has many questions. Take each question as it comes. Listen and give fact-based answers in a calm and reassuring tone. People are scared. Be knowledgeable and positive and above all be kind.
1. USDA. Confirmation of COVID-19 in Two Pet Cats in New York. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/news/sa_by_date/sa-2020/sars-cov-2-animals. Accessed April 22, 2020.
2. Dolan L. 7 more big cats at the Bronx Zoo test positive for coronavirus. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-pandemic-04-23-20-intl/. Accessed April 23, 2020
3. Gorman J. Two Cats Are First U.S. Pets to Test Positive for Coronavirus. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/health/cats-pets-coronavirus. Accessed April 23, 2020.
4. Azad A. Two cats in New York are first pets known to have coronavirus in the US. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/22/health/cats-new-york-coronavirus-trnd/index.html. Accessed April 23, 2020.
5. AVMA. SARS-CoV-2 in pets. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/sars-cov-2-animals-including-pets. Accessed April 23, 2020.