Putting face coverings on cats and dogs causes distress and perhaps worse

This is an interesting development. Some cat and dog owners are putting face coverings on their cats and dogs, photographing them and then uploading the photographs to Instagram and other social media sites. Why are they doing this? There are probably multiple reasons.

Cats wearing face coverings. Photo: in public domain

Misconception

Firstly, they want to protect their companion animal from getting coronavirus. This is a misconception because wearing face coverings prevents others getting coronavirus from the wearer. In other words it stops water droplets containing the virus falling on and being inhaled by others. Therefore wearing masks is not particularly effective in protecting the wearer. There are other points to make. It is extremely rare, as far as we know, for cats and dogs to get this disease. When they get it the symptoms are very mild. They do not cough and splutter distributing droplets of infected water into the atmosphere. The purpose of wearing masks is to stop this distribution of droplets. If they don’t exist in the first place the mask becomes ineffective.

Meme and fear

Secondly, on social media and especially Instagram there is a constant desire to create interesting photographs to achieve success on that website. Therefore an element of this development is that people copy others and create a craze or meme. Thirdly, the first UK confirmed infection of a domestic cat by coronavirus was announced yesterday. It was all over the press online which may have made some people nervous about their cat and dog getting the infection.

Brachycephalic heads

The Sun newspaper goes to far as to say that a cat or dog may die because their owner has put a mask over their face. They are probably referring to flat-faced and round-headed companion animals such as the flat-based person and the bulldogs and pugs. These dogs and cats have breathing problems anyway. Add in a face covering and the animal may become very distressed because of difficulty in breathing which may in turn lead to the ultimate death of the animal under extreme circumstances. These animals have what is called brachycephalic heads. This is due to extreme, long-term selective breeding to make the animal attractive to buyers.

Cat on leash with mask in China to protect against coronavirus. Photo in public domain.

Not safe

I can recall, months ago now, a woman in China with her cat, outside on the street; her cat was wearing a mask. The photograph garnered a lot of interest. However, the bottom line is that it is not safe for a cat or dog to wear a mask. Also, I don’t think it’s practical. I would expect a domestic cat to persist in trying remove the mask. This may cause injury due to scratching. Dogs may be more compliant and accept it but it is still potentially harmful.

Wrong message

Although it looks like fun, it sends the wrong message to others to upload an amusing photograph of your cat or dog on social media wearing a mask. People do jump on these crazes online and they spread quite quickly. This is a potential danger for companion animals. Although it is important to get the message across about wearing masks to protect others, this, it is argued, is not the way to go about achieving that result.

Dr Meehan, a vet based in Melbourne, Australia, said:

As a vet I am constantly treating dogs and cats that suffer from stress and anxiety, which impacts on their health and mental wellbeing and also causing behavioural issues. Putting a mask on a dog or cat can absolutely cause distress.

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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