CHINA: Harbin authorities euthanized three domestic cats who contracted Covid

HARBIN, CHINA – NEWS AND COMMENT: This story is all over the Internet and I have written about it before. It is the first time that I have read a report online or in the printed news media of domestic cats being deliberately killed because they’d contracted Covid. It also seems likely that these three domestic cats had contracted the virus from their owner, Mrs Liu. She pleaded with the authorities not to euthanise them, but her appeal fell on deaf ears. Her cats were two Exotic Shorthairs and one Siamese. The city authority cited their Covid-zero policy to justify euthanizing the cats.

“I never wanted to blame anyone, I just wanted to find them a chance to stay alive, but that chance was never given.” – Mrs Liu.

Miss Liu's Exotic Shorthair one of three cats owned by her that were euthanised
Mrs Liu’s Exotic Shorthair one of three cats owned by her that were euthanised. Photo: The Mirror.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Mrs Liu tested positive for Covid on September 21 and went into isolation after leaving food and water for her cats (I have learned that she was in hospital at the time her cats were killed). This leads me to believe that she probably gave the disease to her cats. But there is no firm evidence to support this. It is also the first case that I have read in which it seems likely that an owner has given the disease to their cats. There has been quite a lot of talk about this and how domestic cats might be a reservoir for the disease and transmit it to their owners.

I would argue that domestic cats can transmit the disease as it is zoonotic, meaning it can be transferred between animals and people and vice versa. However, in practice it seems that it is highly unlikely that cats can give it to their owners. There is evidence that it is being transmitted in the other direction: zookeepers giving the disease to tigers and lions.

Beijing News initially reported on the story. I cannot find the story on their website, by the way. Update: I’m told that the Beijing News report was deleted from its social media channels on Wednesday. I wonder whether they deleted the report from their website as well? It appears to have attracted too many hostile comments.

Another of Miss Liu's cats euthanised. Also an Exotic Shorthair purebred.
Another of Mrs Liu’s cats euthanised. Also, an Exotic Shorthair purebred. Image:

They report that a community worker tested the three cats for Covid twice and on each occasion the results were positive. The same unnamed worker said that there is no “professional medical treatment for animals infected with the novel coronavirus”. This is true to the best of my knowledge, at least currently. And he or she was explaining why the cats were killed. They said that the cats would have continued to leave viral traces in Mrs Liu’s home.

I feel I must comment on that because scientist living in America and in the UK state that it is wise to isolate yourself from your cat if you have Covid. On that basis, it would seem sensible to simply isolate a domestic cat that has contracted Covid. The whole world has been dropping in and out of self-isolation in order to prevent the transmission of the disease to others. Why can’t that policy be applied to domestic cats? They could have been kept in a room in her apartment and retested. There is no treatment for Covid in cats, but a domestic cat’s immune system would be able to cure the cat of the disease in due course. There is no treatment for people so the same rules apply.

I think that the arguments of this community worker to support killing the cats are poor and weak. They don’t stand up to scrutiny. A theology professor, Rachel Tarlinton, at the University of Nottingham, UK, supports my view. I’ve just noticed it in the news media online. She said: “It doesn’t seem very realistic that the cats would contaminate the environment so badly that they would be a risk for their owner to re-contract COVID”.

One commenter stated that it is a blunt and lazy form of control to simply kill cats who contract the disease. I agree with them. Apparently, there are 52,000 comments on the Beijing News website which is why I wanted to read the article on that website. I suspect that 90% of them were against the killing of these cats because it is unjustified. It indicates, as usual, a low status of the domestic cat is if they can be disposed of as a quick fix rather than taking a slightly more complicated and difficult route in the interests of doing the right thing.

Feng Zijian, a researcher with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said that cat companions should be killed if they have repeat positive test results for Covid. This is exactly what I would expect of the authorities in China. They seem to take a blinkered view because of an unenlightened attitude towards the relationship between humans and domestic cats. However, I believe things are slowly changing for the better.

Shen Yi, a professor at Shanghai-based Fudan University said:

“From the perspective of public health crisis management and control, euthanizing the three cats is a decisive measure to minimize negative effects and avoid worst results.”

A professor at City University of Hong Kong, Vanessa Barrs, confirmed that the risk of transmission from a companion animal to their owner or other people is low and that so far, throughout the entirety of the epidemic, there have been no confirmed reports of cats infecting humans. She suggested that “other solutions can be implemented for animals”.

The conclusion has to be that the Harbin authorities could have done better and acted more humanely. There were other solutions which would have saved the lives of these cats and which would have respected the rights of their human caregiver who pleaded for their lives.


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