AVA update regarding COVID-19 and cats
Saturday, 4 April 2020
Over the last few days two reports have emerged regarding cats and COVID-19.
A pre-proof paper has been released regarding the use of animal models for SARS-CoV-2.
In this study five sub-adult cats were infected experimentally by intranasal inoculation. Three of the five infected cats were each placed next to an uninfected cat. One naïve cat was found to be shedding viral RNA in its faeces 3 days after exposure. On day 11 post exposure, this cat was euthanised and viral RNA was found in its respiratory tract. The other two exposed naïve cats did not have any detectable viral RNA in their tissue. The authors of this paper suggest that SARS-CoV-2 does replicate efficiently in cats and that virus can be transmitted between cats.
The link to the paper is here. It should be stressed that this paper has yet to undergo peer-review.
This study is similar to other studies carried out during the SARS-CoV-1 epidemic. Read more here.
In the 2003 SARS epidemic there was an isolated report of infection in apartment-dwelling cats in Hong Kong where there was a significant cluster of human infections. Infection of the cats was thought to be associated with contact with infected humans, high viral contamination of the environment, or contact with their sewage. There was no evidence of cats being involved in transmission of the virus to humans during the SARS epidemic.
The Hong Kong government has advised a cat in quarantine which was in contact with a COVID-19 patient has a positive PCR test. The cat has shown no clinical signs of disease and remains well. Read more here.
This is not an unexpected finding, given the use of cats as an animal model and the previous isolated report of infection in cats during the SARS outbreak. Along with the report of apparent infection in a cat belonging to a COVID-19 positive owner in Belgium, this is an isolated incident.
Recommendations for veterinarians
Continue to triage owners based on their COVID status or risk before presentation of pets.
- Based on current evidence from around the world, these human-to-animal cases are rare and isolated incidents.
- The main transmission pathway for COVID is from human-to-human contact
If the cat is in contact with a COVID-19 positive owner?
- Triage the case – if the case is not critical or an emergency, please reschedule until after the owner has cleared quarantine.
- Wear PPE when examining the cat – a mask, eye protection, gloves and a disposable or washable gown.
- Minimal handling of the cat
- Practice good hand and environmental hygiene
- If you need to hospitalise a cat who has had exposure to a COVID-19 positive human patient, it should be isolated from other animals and staff should wear PPE when cleaning cages or handling the cat.
- Only perform essential procedures to any cat in contact with a COVID-19 positive owner. A P2 mask is required for all in contact staff if doing a procedure where aerosol may be generated. This includes intubation. Ensure you do a fit check on your mask. Information from QLD Health can be found here.
3: Pet owners who are infected or in self isolation should keep their pets with them.
- Keep the animal within the affected household if it has been exposed to a human case
- Minimise contact with their pet, and especially avoid any close contact
- Maintain good hand hygiene before and after handling their pet and their food and water bowls.
- Get someone else in the household to care for the pet if at all possible
- Owners who are infected or at risk of infection should be advised to develop a plan for care of their animals in the event of them being hospitalised.
We are very grateful to the dedicated members of the Australian Veterinarians in Public Health (AVPH) Committee for researching and compiling this information.
Head of Policy and Advocacy