The global pandemic ravaging the world today is Covid-19, a deadly disease caused by a fresh strain of SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus. Since the onset of this pandemic in 2020, the number of active cases has increased dramatically.
While humans have figured out different medical methods to treat coronavirus symptoms and the vaccination drives have been rolled out as well, the question of how our pets are affected by coronavirus still remains a bit unclear. Can cats get coronavirus? Let’s find out.
• Can Cats Have Coronavirus?
Simply put, yes. Cats can get coronavirus. In 2020, we read about two cats in New York who tested positive for coronavirus. In other news, a full-grown tiger at the Bronx Zoo got the virus, too.
So, it became quite evident early on that big cats and house cats can get coronavirus. This is alarming news but, like most cases in the world, including humans, the reported cases of cats who’ve tested positive showed mild symptoms and were nursed back to health.
Breathe a sigh of relief, because the statistics aren’t terrifying. Even now, it’s fairly rare for house cats to get the virus. However, it’s important to understand how and why cats get Covid-19 and what you can do about it as a pet parent.
• Is It the Same One Humans Have?
Wondering whether coronavirus in cats is the same type of coronavirus that humans have? Let’s discuss this in detail.
Most households today have either dogs or cats, and for pet owners, it’s crucial to understand how their pets are affected by the coronavirus and whether the coronavirus trait that affects humans is the same one that infects their pets as well.
With concerns like these, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has brought some useful information to light and these facts can help you better understand how coronavirus affects cats.
Coronaviruses are mainly classified into four genera, some of which affect humans and some affect animals:
As far as the current pandemic is concerned, Betacoronavirus is to blame for the disease in humans. However, the feline coronavirus that causes respiratory diseases in cats is different from the human coronavirus as it is a subgroup of Alphacoronavirus.
Hence, the treatments used to minimize the effects of coronavirus in humans are different from the types of treatments and medications used for cats and dogs.
• What is Cat Coronavirus?
Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) is another term for cat coronavirus. It is essentially a viral infection that causes mild symptoms like diarrhea in cats. In isolation, FCoV is an asymptomatic condition.
Although this may sound like good news, the downside about this is that cats also shed a lot through their fur and stool. So you can never be too sure if your cat is tracing the virus around your house. And things get a lot more serious if you have more than one cat at home.
When a group of cats gets FCov, they tend to shed excess deposits of the virus in the environment, such as in their homes, kennels, or in the garden outside. The collective accumulation of these virus deposits can cause more deadly mutants to form a highly infectious disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP).
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
If you only have one pet cat, the chances of your cat getting infected with FIP is comparatively lower than for households with multiple cats. If a group of cats is infected with FIP, controlling the spread of the disease becomes that much harder.
FIP puts tremendous pressure on a cat’s immune system that has already been weakened from the symptoms of the viral infection. FIP also affects organs adversely. There are two types of FIP: wet and dry.
Symptoms of wet FIP:
• Constant fever
• Loss of appetite
• Gradual weight loss
• A potbelly appearance because of abdominal swelling
• A fluid-filled chest cavity
• Shortness of breath
• A stuffy or runny nose
• Body weakness
Symptoms of dry FIP:
• Stunted growth in kittens
• Hemoglobin Deficiency
• Inflammation of the eyes
• Vision loss
• Signs Your Cat has Coronavirus
Your cat could have FCoV but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she has also developed FIP. As the symptoms of both conditions are similar, it’s best to look out for the following signs before calling your vet:
• A runny nose
• Unusual and excessive coughing
• Breathlessness or difficulties breathing
• Nausea and Vomiting
• Diarrhea or persistent loose stools
• Watery eyes
• Frequent sneezing
• Extreme laziness and lack of motivation
• A fever that exceeds 103.5°F
If your cat has coronavirus, he or she may not have all the symptoms mentioned above. The symptoms may also not show up altogether and instead creep up gradually or show a combination of some of these signs.
Keep an eye out for unusual behavior and contact your vet for a diagnosis.
• How to Diagnose Coronavirus in Cats
The diagnosis of FCoV is usually tricky because the symptoms of this disease are a lot like those of other respiratory conditions. And with the pandemic on a surge, most pet parents have been reaching out to their vets for proper ways to diagnose coronavirus in cats.
Typically, animal hospitals will run a fecal RT-PCR test to check for FCoV in cats. The sample for such a test usually requires about 2 to 5 grams of fresh feces.
The normal protocol is to get your cat tested at least twice over a period of 5 to 8 months because just a single test, whether it’s positive or negative, won’t confirm anything as your cat is bound to shed it all out.
Ideally, you want to check to see if your asymptomatic cat, who may or not have FCoV, has developed FIP over time.
To check for FIP, experts also check the cat’s white blood cells (WBCs). For more clarity, vets also run a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to check for the DNA of the FIP virus.
In addition, vets also test a cat’s abdominal fluid for a definitive diagnosis.
• How to Keep Your Pet Safe
Here are some precautionary measures you can take around your house to keep your cat safe and comfortable and prevent infection.
#1. Practice Good Hygiene
Before and after you make physical contact with your cat, like when picking them up or feeding them, always wash your hands with a clinical hand wash or use a sanitizer. It’s also best to refrain from kissing your cat at this point.
#2. Maintain Social Distance
Try to keep your humans away from your cat for a while to minimize the risk of human-to-cat transmission and vice-versa. Bring your cat indoors and limit the number of people you have over.
#3. Disinfect Surfaces
From cages to liters, make sure you disinfect surfaces with a disinfectant spray. Thoroughly clean surfaces that your cat often uses or climbs over. Clear out litter bins regularly. Keep their food and water clean, and replenish them every now and then with fresh food and fresh liquids.
#4. Strengthen Immunity
Pay attention to your cat’s diet, sleep pattern, and make sure they get some basic exercise. Improved blood circulation, healthy food, and adequate sleep can help treat the symptoms of FCoV.
• Treatment for FCoV
Upon early detection, your vet will prescribe some over-the-counter medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, immunity-boosting vitamins, and drugs for the fever to help treat the infection.
Supplements for improving diarrhea may also be recommended.
While coronavirus in cats can be treated easily, if it becomes more severe like FIP, there’s no way to completely cure the disease.
• Expert Comments
Here’s what some experts have had to say about cats and coronavirus:
#1. “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 practice good hygiene, including regular hand washing.” — Daniella Dos Santos, President of the British Veterinary Association
#2. “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.” — Daniella Dos Santos, President of the British Veterinary Association
#3. “The data overall continue to suggest that cats may become infected by their owners if their owners have COVID-19, but there is no suggestion that they may transmit it to owners. This reflects the advice that, if possible, when infected, owners should keep their cats inside.” — Professor James Wood, Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge
#4. “Evidence suggests that the animals don’t get sick and only produce very low levels of virus. The best thing you can do to protect your pets is to avoid close contact if you are, or think you might be, infected with the virus.” — Professor Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University
• Frequently Asked Questions
1. Should my cat wear a mask?
If you or your cat has tested positive, it’s best to keep your distance and sanitize because you can’t get your cat to wear a mask. Humans should, however, continue to wear a mask around the house.
2. Is there a vaccine for cats?
Vaccines for cats against coronavirus exist but they are controversial.
3. I am diagnosed with COVID, how do I protect my pet?
Maintain social distance; disinfect commonly used surfaces and areas; keep good hygiene; avoid petting, cuddling, or kissing your cat; and wash your hand frequently.
4. Can cats get it from humans or the other way around?
It’s too early to confirm this, but with close contact with a covid-positive patient, animal to human and human to animal transmission is possible.
A Few Parting Words
So, now we know the answer to can cats get coronavirus. And now more than ever, it is crucial to maintain good hygiene and sanitation in your home.
Make sure your cat does not have too much interaction with other cats or humans, disinfect/clean their litter boxes regularly, and maintain a healthy diet for your cat.