Can Cats Catch Coronavirus?

Man stroking a cat's head

The Coronavirus pandemic has upended our entire society.

Many of us are helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by staying at home.

And it’s tough, right?

We can’t meet up with our family and friends like we used to; we can’t go out and grab a beer or a coffee or go on vacation or enjoy the theater or take in a movie.

It sucks right now but the measures in place to flatten the curve are absolutely necessary.

One thing we’re really grateful for is that we share our home with a curious, gregarious and mischievous little cat.

It’s more important than ever to have companionship right now.

For some people, especially those who are vulnerable or self-isolating, a cat is the only social interaction they have.

But can cats catch COVID-19?

There’s been some concerning reports in the news that we wanted to find out more about.

And if cats can catch Coronavirus, then what are the implications for owners?

What’s Feline Coronavirus (FCov)?

Feline Coronavirus is a relatively common illness transmitted from cat-to-cat through faeces.

Most cats recover quickly from the virus (some won’t display any symptoms at all), but some go on to develop feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and that can be fatal.

Humans can’t catch FCOV or FIP.

FCOV and FIP shouldn’t be confused with the current COVID-19 pandemic, either.

If you’d like more information on FCov, then you can visit the Cat’s Protection website for details.  

Could a Cat be Infected with COVID-19?

Initially, The World Health Organisation said that ‘there’s no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19.’

That’s no longer strictly true.

Cats can catch COVID-19 and they can pass it onto other cats BUT cats CANNOT pass it on to humans.

What About the Pet that Caught Coronavirus in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong in March, a 17-year old Pomeranian dog tested as weak-positive for Coronavirus after the owner developed the illness.

The dog had underlying medical conditions and later died but there’s ongoing debate as to whether the dog had the virus at all as ‘no antibodies were detected in its blood.’           

It’s possible that rather than being infected, the dog was just a carrier of the virus.  Traces of COVID-19 could have been passed onto the dog through its owner when it was being stroked or handled.

The BBC reports that during the SARS-Cov outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003, pets were ‘infected but never became sick’.

Jerry Klein, the chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club told the Huffington Post that “I think we are far enough into this pandemic that if animals were, in fact, able to be infected, we would have already heard of a report on an ill dog and/or cats presenting to various veterinary hospitals throughout the world,”

Which was a fair point at the time but now a handful of cases have appeared.

What Does This Mean for Owners of Pets During the Pandemic?

If pets can become carriers, it’s worth remembering that if someone with Coronavirus coughs or sneezes and respiratory droplets get onto a cat’s fur, then someone else handling the cat afterward could become infected.

If you’re living in a household with other people and someone starts displaying symptoms, be aware that your cat could become a carrier.  Cats shouldn’t be mixing with an infected person and owners should discourage petting and encourage handwashing until the virus is gone.  

What About the Cat Who Tested Positive for COVID-19 in Belgium?

There was a cat in Belgium that tested positive for Coronavirus. 

The cat’s owner did, too. 

According to Dr Sarah Caddy from the University of Cambridge, we shouldn’t worry too much at the moment as there’s no evidence that the virus was able to replicate.

It could be that the cat ate infected food and it passed through the gut.  Dr Caddy goes on to say that whilst the cat did have respiratory illness, it’s not enough evidence as respiratory illnesses in cats are relatively common and can be caused by asthma, allergies or heart disease, etc.

What About Research in China That Showed Cats are Susceptible to COVID-19?

Cats can pass Coronavirus to other cats through respiratory droplets.

But there’s no evidence that this can then be passed onto humans.


Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, told The Independent that “Human to human transmission is clearly the main driver, so there is no need to panic about cats as an important source of virus”.

It’s important to remember that the results of the Chinese study took place in lab conditions where the cats were given very high doses of the virus that won’t reflect typical interaction between owners and their pets.

Nature.com reported that only 3 of the cats showed symptoms of the illness and only 1 in 3 were infected by other cats. This suggests that the virus isn’t as easily transmitted between pets as it might seem.

Again, there’s no evidence that cats can pass the virus onto humans.

Should I Keep My Cat Indoors?

You should keep your cat indoors if someone in your household is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or if you’re self-isolating because you’ve been exposed to the virus.

This will reduce the chance of your cat carrying the virus to someone else or passing it to other cats.

But that might not be possible if a cat is likely to become overly stressed at being shut indoors.

What About the Tiger in the Bronx Zoo that Tested Positive for Coronavirus?

A Malayan Tiger called Nadia has tested positive with COVID-19 in the first believed case of a human (an asymptomatic zookeeper) passing the virus onto a wild animal.  Three African lions at the zoo have developed cough-like symptoms, too.

The zoo has been closed to visitors since March 16th.

Can Cats Catch Coronavirus?

Yes, cats can catch COVID-19 and it appears that they can also pass it onto other cats.

But there’s NO evidence to suggest that cats can pass COVID-19 onto humans. Human-to-human transmission is still the greatest threat to life during this pandemic.

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