First confirmed coronavirus infection in a domestic cat in UK

This is quite a low-key event even though the news is spread all over the Internet on news media websites (it is manic three days later). It is the first confirmed infection of a domestic cat by the coronavirus in the UK. However, the veterinarians and the news broadcasters stressed that the infection was given to a domestic cat by their owner who had tested positive for the virus and the danger of the virus travelling the other way appears to be almost zero. In fact, I don’t recall reading about any infections from cats to people thus far. The disease is zoonotic which means it can travel between animals and people.

World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has issued advice for all pet owners that cats should be kept indoors. Picture: Getty Images.

The BBC reported on this today; about five minutes ago. They said that a cat developed symptoms of respiratory disease (feline herpes virus) and the owner who had, I presume, tested positive for coronavirus at that time, took their pet cat to their veterinarian who did a test (carried out by the APHA laboratory in Weybridge). I think they were involved in some sort of coronavirus study at the time so they had excellent access to testing for coronavirus which sadly proved positive for this particular cat.

As reported, the cat has recovered quite quickly. The reports say that when domestic cats get coronavirus their symptoms are relatively mild. Also, only a handful of cats have been reported to have contracted the infection, and that is globally. The point has been made that because cats are not being tested for coronavirus how do we know how many cats have been infected by it particularly when their symptoms are very slight?

Detroit News: Owner of Caturday Cafe Arisa Limpanawongsanon checks the temperature of a cat at Caturday Cafe in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday. Photo: Sakchai Lalit, AP

We don’t know, or it is not been reported, whether veterinarians automatically test for coronavirus in cats who are suffering from upper respiratory infections i.e. breathing problems and other associated symptoms. Perhaps they do not and perhaps they should. How else are we to find out the prevalence of this disease in cats and other pets?

Study needed to prove beyond doubt that domestic cats don’t or can’t spread Covid-19 to people. Illustration: PoC from images in public domain.

Although this event in the UK is very low-key for the reasons mentioned above i.e. domestic cats propose a very limited danger to people when infected with coronavirus, it would be nice if more testing was done of domestic cat to perhaps get a clearer picture of what is going on. We know that cats can get coronavirus from people but we don’t know how many are getting it.

The government’s website reports that the Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said that the coronavirus test was conducted by the Animal and Plant Health Agency. They confirmed that this is the first cat testing positive for Covid-19 and that it is a very rare event. They stress that it is not a cause for alarm. They advised the usual precautions such as washing your hands regularly including before and after contact with animals. The BBC also reported that if you suspect that your cat has a coronavirus infection you should keep your distance i.e. social distancing applied. I do not think that that is going to be practical to be perfectly honest.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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