Cornell Feline Health Center

Supporting Cat Health with Information and Health Studies.

Latest news on Feline Health and SARS-Cov-2

Business Insider, "The FDA is recommending cats and dogs practice social distancing, too,"  May, 8, 2020. The call to keep cats indoors, Cornell Feline Health Center director Bruce Kornreich told Business Insider, is to keep them from getting sick or infecting other felines.

Spectrum News, 2 Cats in New York Become First U.S. Pets to Test Positive for COVID-19, “At this point there’s no evidence that this virus can transmit from cats to people although we do have evidence that the opposite can occur that humans can serve as the source of infection for cats," said Dr. Bruce Kornreich, director of Cornell's Feline Health Center.

WXXI News, Cats and COVID-19: What pet owners need to know, "Dogs can be infected, although they appear to be much less susceptible to infection, and they generally don't show signs of disease like cats do," said Dr. Bruce Kornreich, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center.

A recent study investigating the susceptibility of a number of domestic animals to the SARS-coronavirus-2 virus (SARS-Cov-2) that causes COVID-19 suggests that cats can be infected by this virus, and that they can transmit it to other cats via droplets of respiratory secretions (Shi, J. et al. Preprint at bioRxiv (2020)). Given the seriousness of the current COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on public health, the health of domestic animals, and the economy, it is important that we carefully evaluate all studies focused on improving our understanding of how SARS-Cov-2 causes disease and spreads within populations of humans and animals.

Such studies are vital to improving our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent COVID-19 infections in both animals and people, but it is also important that results are scrutinized carefully with respect to scientific merit and to application to real-world situations. This is not to say that this or any other study is invalid or inappropriate, but rather that its crucial that these studies are interpreted carefully and from the appropriate perspective.

With this in mind, it’s important to point out that the paper by Shi el al., investigated infections of cats using large doses of SARS-Cov-2 that were administered unnaturally and are not likely to be representative of doses that would be encountered in the real world. In addition, the infected cats did not generally become ill and did not show evidence of the virus in the lower respiratory tract (lungs). Finally, the description of the experimental design does not allow us to definitively rule out the possibility of transmission from infected cats to susceptible ones via urine, feces, or contamination by the liquid that was used to inoculate the cats with virus.

A very important point to strongly state is that this study does not provide evidence that cats can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people, a fact that the authors plainly state. We understand the public’s concern about this possibility, but it is very important that cat owners do not overreact and consider relinquishing their cats based upon this study. We have heard anecdotal reports of cats being brought to shelters or abandoned based upon news of this study, and it this is very unfortunate and unnecessary.

Out of an abundance of caution, and in accordance with current CDC guidelines, prudence dictates that until we know more, owners diagnosed with COVID-19 should: 1) isolate themselves from their cats, 2) owners of cats showing signs of respiratory disease should seek veterinary consultation, 3) wash their hands before and after handling their cats, cat food and  litter boxes (washing hands is a good idea right now, anyway), and 4) refrain from allowing cats to lick their faces.

For the most current updates, see CDC guidelines HERE. ​​​​​​ 

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