Things are feeling really uncertain right now as the medical community scrambles to get ahead of the new virus sweeping across the world. There is a lot of information going around about the disease caused by coronavirus infection and many pet owners are wondering if a) coronavirus in cats is a thing and b) should we be worried about our cats' safety. The short answer is no, the likelihood of your cat contracting the disease is slim to none. With that said, let us get into the specifics.

Coronavirus: What Is It?

The coronavirus currently sweeping the globe is a virus that causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19. This virus started in China and has now spread all around the world. Coronavirus is a highly contagious infectious disease and has spread quickly amongst humans over the last few months.   Coronaviruses are actually a large family of viruses that include the common cold as well as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), a respiratory outbreak we saw in 2003 and 2004. Coronaviruses are zoonotic which means they do not originate in humans but are spread by animals to people. This usually comes about unhygienic conditions and/or eating infected animals. However, rest assured, this does not mean that an infected human can transfer the illness to a pet.    We've encountered other forms of coronavirus that have started in the animal kingdom, most notably SARS and MERS. SARS was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS originated in camels. With that said, there are many coronavirus diseases that present in animals and have not yet infected humans.    We're happy to report that The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization is monitoring the situation very carefully. If you wish to get updates on COVID-19, those websites should be your first stop. 

Coronavirus in Cats

So far, health experts believe your cat isn't susceptible to COVID- 19. Two weeks ago, Hong Kong authorities believed that a Pomeranian was infected after the dog's coronavirus test came back as a "weak positive". The tests that the Hong Kong authorities performed found viral RNA in the pet's nose and mouth samples. The pet was then put into quarantine. Luckily, the dog has since tested negative for the coronavirus infection. The Hong Kong authorities are still keeping the pet under quarantine as they are concerned it could still be a carrier for the disease. 

But, as medical researchers and disease control have shared, they believe this is an isolated case. As of now, there is no evidence to support pet owners spreading the disease to their pets and vice versa. It appears to be a virus that only humans can transmit to each other.

The World Health Organization has released this statement regarding coronavirus in dogs and cats:

"While there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly." 

It is suspected that the positive result was because of particles from the infected pet owner having physical contact with the dog, not because the dog was actually infected. The pet showed no clinical signs of disease.

With that said, cats and dogs are mammals like us. They do share a lot of the same cell receptors as humans. So, in that case, it is theoretically possible the virus could attach to these cells. But from what we understand, it isn't a likely scenario.

Feline Coronavirus

So, as we have established, the human coronavirus infection known as COVID-19, cannot spread to your animal (phew). But, there is a strain of coronavirus called Feline Coronavirus that has existed in cats for quite a while. However, its symptoms are different than COVID-19. 

As a cat owner, you've likely vaccinated your feline against Feline coronavirus. Feline Coronavirus is a common viral infection in cats that can cause mild diarrhea. Luckily, Feline coronavirus only becomes severe in less than 1 percent of cases. However, in serious cases, Feline Coronavirus can mutate, causing Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) which is fatal.

Most cats infected with Feline Coronavirus will eliminate the virus after the infection runs its course. However, some may develop a lasting infection. In these cases, the cat generally will not display any symptoms but the virus will be present in their feces and can affect other cats. If Feline Coronavirus spreads, more cases of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) will develop.

Quarantine and Your Cat

So in the event that you come down with COVID-19, should you keep your feline with you? Not exactly. If you do become infected, health experts recommend that you separate yourself from your friends and family, including your pet. If you do become ill with COVID-19 and have no choice but to maintain contact with your pet, be sure to take precautionary measures such as washing your hands and wearing a mask. However, if at all possible, the best thing to do for your cat is to leave them with a non-quarantined family member or neighbor.  

Coronavirus: Clinical Signs

A coronavirus infection has many symptoms. If your infection is severe, the symptoms will be much more apparent and you should seek medical attention.    Some symptoms to look out for in humans are:

  • Fever

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dry cough

  • Vomiting

  • Body aches

  • Fatigue

  • Diarrhea  

It's important to remember that Coronavirus may feel like you have the flu. One key difference is that coughing and shortness of breath will be much more severe in a Coronavirus infection. Like SARS, coronavirus is a respiratory illness and when the cough worsens, you may have trouble breathing and even develop pneumonia. 

Coronavirus in Cats: Bottom Line

Feline Coronavirus is an infection that has affected the feline world for a long time. It is a very different disease than the strain of coronavirus we are currently dealing with, COVID-19.

Your veterinarian most likely vaccinated your cat against feline coronavirus but it doesn't hurt to double-check.

But, rest assured, when it comes to the current coronavirus outbreak, all research points to the belief that you cannot pass on COVID-19 to your cat.  The most important thing pet owners can do for their cats is to take them into account when planning for the outbreak. Stock up on a little extra cat food, incorporate them into your family plan, and watch yourself for clinical signs of disease. Stay healthy, cat parents! Your felines need you.