BVA says cats can be let out if they're not from infected households

Is your cat a coronavirus risk? Veterinary scientists insist Covid-19 CANNOT be passed from pets to humans but urge owners with symptoms to keep them indoors because they can carry saliva droplets in their fur

  • British Veterinary Association says that cats can’t pass COVID-19 to owners
  • But cats can carry the coronavirus in their fur which can pose a risk if let out
  • This is especially true for cats from households with people showing symptoms  
  • The BVA says human owners with COVID-19 should keep their cats in if possible
  • But only if the cat is ‘happy’ to stay indoors as some housebound cats have stress

Cat owners don’t have to keep their pets indoors during lockdown and are advised to do so only if they are self-isolating or in a household with symptoms.

Cats can carry the coronavirus on their fur making them as much as a risk to humans as other high-contact physical objects like doorknobs, the British Veterinary Association has said.

The UK’s national body for veterinary surgeons reiterated that it is not asking all cat owners to keep their animals indoors, as implied by previous media reports.

This advice only applies to cats in infected households or where people are self-isolating, as opposed to just following the government lockdown – and only if the cat is ‘happy’ to do so.

BVA admitted that there have been cases of cats having COVID-19, but in those instances it was likely the humans had infected the cats.  

Cats are capable of transmitting the coronavirus between themselves, a study in China has found. Picture: A cat relaxes outside Moscow apartments being disinfected

BVA and other veterinary experts are keen to outline the distinction between cats carrying the virus on their fur, as opposed to being infected or showing symptoms themselves.

‘It is very important that people don’t panic about their pets,’ said British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Daniella Dos Santos.

‘We are not advising that all cats are kept indoors – only cats from infected households or where their owners are self-isolating, and only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors.’

Dos Santos said there is no evidence that pets can pass COVID-19 to their owners – humans pose more of a risk to cats than the other way round.

‘There have been a tiny number of cases of COVID-19 in animals and in all cases, it is likely that the transmission was human to animal,’ she said. 

Dr Alan Radford, Professor of Animal Health Surveillance at the University of Liverpool, said humans potentially pose a risk to cats.  

‘Firstly they might put virus on a pet, just as you might do to your phone or a door handle,’ he told MailOnline. 

‘Secondly, there is growing evidence that some animals – cats, ferrets and to a lesser extent dogs – can be infected.

‘Currently we believe infection to be rare, and like people, most animals seem to have mild or inapparent signs.’ 

Cats from infected households can, however, carry the virus on their fur, through microscopic droplets that have been coughed or sneezed out by their human owner.

If let out the house, these pets can pose a risk to people in the neighbourhood who are on their daily exercise allowance who may touch the cat in the street.

However, some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons, which is why the BVA is saying even those from infected households should be let out if absolutely necessary.

Therefore, best practices are to avoid touching cat strangers, and, if one does so accidentally, to maintain good hygiene as per the NHS’s official advice – wash hands thoroughly and use hand sanitiser.

The same applies to people in non-infected households who have a cat that it still coming in and out during lockdown – as well as any pet. 

‘Animals can act as fomites, as the virus could be on their fur in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs,’ Dos Santos said. 

Cats and ferrets can be infected with coronavirus but it is hard for dogs to catch the disease, scientists have discovered (stock image)

‘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,’ she said. 

Professor Ken Smith, professor of companion animal pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, said that to avoid spread of infection from humans to animals, contact between infected people and other animals should be minimised. 

‘If cats are present within a COVID-19 positive household, they should be kept indoors,’ he said.  

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has previously noted that there is no evidence to suggest that household pets are capable of carrying and spreading the disease in the way that humans do.

However, it has advised those infected with the coronavirus to limit their contact with their pets until they have fully recovered as a precaution. 

Conclusions on whether cats, dogs and other domestic pets can get COVID-19 is mixed, but consensus is that they don’t pose more of a risk to us than another human. 

In a recent research paper, Dr Angel Almendros from City University in Hong Kong disputed the theory that cats or dogs can show COVID-19 symptoms.

Dr Almendros detailed experiments on a 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong in the journal Vet Record, whose owner had tested positive for COVID-19.

The dog passed away following rigorous lab tests, but showed no suggestion that it was contagious to other pets or people. 

‘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,’ he said.

At the end of last month, Belgian authorities said a woman had infected her cat with the virus. 

Steven van Gucht, head of viral diseases at the country’s Institute of Health, told a press conference that ‘a coronavirus infection has been determined in a cat’.

‘Cats and dogs are in close contact with humans and therefore it is important to understand their susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 for COVID-19 control,’ the researchers wrote in their paper

‘The cat lived with her owner, who started showing symptoms of the virus a week before the cat did,’ he said.

The Belgian case is the first report of a cat being infected with the new coronavirus, although officials in Hong Kong say two dogs have caught the virus there.

A recent study in China suggests cats are capable of transmitting the coronavirus to other cats.

The study, undertaken by researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China, concluded that cats are highly vulnerable to the virus.

The lab discovered that the animals can transmit the disease to other cats through respiratory droplets.

The findings followed four isolated cases of pets being infected with the coronavirus, including two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium.

Another team said cats and ferrets can be infected with coronavirus and spread it to other animals, but it is hard for dogs to catch the disease.


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