Cat owners who fall ill with COVID-19 should restrict contact with it and keep it indoors if possible, experts have said.
Their comments come after the government announced a cat had tested positive for coronavirus – the first time an animal had been confirmed as infected in the UK.
The cat and its owners have fully recovered and the pet is thought to have been infected by the people it lived with, not vice versa, with no suggestion that felines could transmit it to humans.
Daniella Dos Santos, president of the British Veterinary Association, said there are still safety steps that could be taken by pet owners who become infected or believe they have been taken ill with COVID-19.
“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 practise good hygiene, including regular hand washing,” she said.
“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.”
She also noted that the infected cat is thought to have had only a mild reaction.
Professor James Wood, head of the department of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: “A handful of pets in contact with infected human owners have been found to be infected around the world.
“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.”
He added that a cat’s grooming behaviour means a cat is “more likely to catch infection from an owner than vice versa”.
Professor Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at Nottingham University, said 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.”
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