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Pet cuddles warning after owners give their cats Covid

Vet's gloved hands examining ginger kitten
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In news that is sure to cause concern amongst animal owners, The British Veterinary Association is advising pet owners with coronavirus to put pet cuddles on hold after scientists discover that humans can infect their animals. 

Researchers at the University of Glasgow found the cases of COVID-19 in two cats while taking part in a screening program of felines in the UK. The cats were different breeds and lived in different homes with owners who had recently been diagnosed with coronavirus. 

One of the cats displayed mild respiratory signs and the other severe, with researchers believing that both pets had been infected by their owners who were showing symptoms of COVID-19 before the cats became unwell. 

While there is currently no evidence of cat-to-human transmission, a small number of animals have become infected following contact with humans who have tested positive for the virus.

Daniella Dos Santos, senior vice president at the British Veterinary Association, told The Daily Telegraph: "There has been a very small number of cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 identified in domestic animals worldwide and it appears likely that the transmission was from infected humans to animals.”

These latest findings have prompted vets to advise all pet parents who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or those that have been diagnosed as having the virus, to avoid close contact with their pets until they’ve recovered. 

"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 practice good hygiene, including regular handwashing,” says Dos Santos. “If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.”

While there have yet to be any reports of domestic animal to human transmission, researchers believe that there remains a possibility that they could act as a “viral reservoir”, allowing the spread of the virus to continue. 

Lead researcher Professor Margaret Hosie believes extensive further research is needed into the role domestic animals play in the virus. "Currently, animal-to-human transmission represents a relatively low risk to public health in areas where human-to-human transmission remains high. However as human cases decrease, the prospect of transmission among animals becomes increasingly important as a potential source of SARS-CoV-2 reintroduction to humans.”

The first cat in the screening program who was found to be infected with COVID-19 was a four-month-old Ragdoll kitten who suffered severe breathing difficulties and had to be put down. The second cat, a six-year-old Siamese, had mild symptoms and has made a full recovery. 

For pet parents who have been diagnosed with coronavirus and are concerned that their pet is displaying symptoms, Dos Santos advises an active but cautious approach: "If your pet shows any symptoms which you suspect may be caused by the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice first and alert them to the household's status."

Kathryn Rosenberg

Kathryn is a freelance writer with a passion for creating health and wellness, travel and wildlife content. Originally from New Zealand, her nomadic lifestyle has her currently fur baby-less. She scratches her pet parent itch by stealing frequent cuddles with any neighbourhood cat kind enough to indulge her.