Concerns are rising
It’s hard to escape news of the coronavirus these days—and if you have pets, you’re probably not only worried about the possibility of contracting the virus yourself but also about coronavirus in cats. With the recent news of a dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, pet owners may be concerned about passing the contagion on not only to family and friends but also to their furry companions.
Coronavirus in cats
Cat owners have probably heard of coronavirus before—cats are routinely vaccinated against a species-specific strain of the virus that can cause mild digestive issues. But according to veterinarian Zac Pilossoph, in rare cases, this common feline coronavirus infection can turn into something more troubling. “In less than 1 per cent of cats, there is a chance that they can develop a more severe type of coronavirus, called feline infectious peritonitis or FIP, which is fatal in almost 100 per cent of cases,” he explains. “FIP occurs via the virus mutating within the individual cat alone and finding a way to evade the normal immune system.” The better news is that FIP is not transmissible between cats.
Cats don’t transmit COVID-19 to humans
So far, it has not been proven that an animal can transmit COVID-19 to humans. There are several zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, the most well-known of which is rabies, but at this point, COVID-19 has not been found to be zoonotic. Nor has it been found to be anthropozoonotic, or transmissible from humans to animals, according to Dr. Pilossoph. “Continuous testing is being done globally on a regular basis to determine if this remains the case,” he says.
A dog in Hong Kong who did recently test positive for COVID-19 was most likely a passive carrier, says Dr Pilossoph. “A passive carrier is a living creature that can help spread disease from one animal to another, without ever becoming infected themselves,” he explains. “To demonstrate the concept of passive carriers, pretend you were infected with the COVID-19 virus and you decided to snuggle your outdoor cat before letting it outside to roam the neighbourhood. Your cat, for a short amount of time, could pass virus particles to any human who subsequently pets them.” In this scenario, your cat was a passive carrier for coronavirus infection, he says. “If you performed a coronavirus test on that same cat, it may test weakly positive, not because it’s infected with the virus, but because the virus is on them from your snuggle session.”