How do I know if my cat has coronavirus?

The coronavirus causes an upper respiratory infection (URI) in cats, both domestic and wild. The online newspapers stated that the first UK cat to become infected with coronavirus had a cough. There will probably be other symptoms of a URI such as sneezing, watery nose, nasal discharge and eye discharge and lethargy. There may be a secondary bacterial infection causing conjunctivitis. Although the reports tell us that when cats get Covid-19 the symptoms are mild and short-lived.

How do I know if my cat has coronavirus?
URI in a cat. Typically caused by the herpes virus. Photo: urbananimalveterinary.com
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The problem, as I see it, is that we are describing a typical URI in a domestic cat. Feline viral respiratory disease complex, as veterinarians refer to it, is normally caused by two major viral groups namely the herpesvirus group and the calicivirus group. Neither of them are linked to coronavirus (Covid-19). Therefore if your cat has an upper respiratory infection AND you have the coronavirus or have been infected by it which has been confirmed by a test, then you will need to take your cat to a veterinarian to test your cat for a coronavirus infection.

The point that I’m making is that an upper respiratory infection in a cat is going to be caused by the herpes virus normally but if you have been confirmed as having been infected by the coronavirus then you have to make sure that you have not transmitted it to your cat (the disease is zoonotic). The only way you can do this is to have your cat tested by a veterinarian.

You will then know whether your cat has coronavirus or not. All the cases reported on the Internet of cats getting coronavirus (only a handful globally) describe the virus being transmitted from the cat’s owner to their cat. This appears to be the typical route. If you have coronavirus you should maintain social distancing with respect to your cat although it’ll be difficult.

More research is required and no doubt more information will emerge in the future. Outdoor cats might get it if they bump into a cat that has the disease. But at the moment there are no reports about that.

It boils down to your cat being tested just like humans are tested. Swab samples are taken from the mucous membranes at the back of the throat and in the nasal passages. These swab samples are tested in a laboratory.

There is a complication for me. There is a close link between feline infectious peritonitis which is also caused by a coronavirus (a different species as they understand it) but this complication should be put to one side for the moment.

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