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Can COVID-19 be transmitted between pets and people? We've got the latest info from the AVMA, the CDC, and more about COVID-19 and cats. Facts, not fear.

As of now, it looks like cat guardians are safe from infecting their cats with COVID-19 or being infected by their cats.

I know, I know: you’re probably sick and tired of hearing about COVID-19. I live in Seattle, so I don’t have the luxury of ignoring the pandemic and I do have an interest in sharing facts, not hype and fear. I’m sure there are also some of you wondering about COVID-19 and cats, if there’s a risk of transmission between cats and people, and more. I’ve checked the websites of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the World Organization for Animal Health to bring you facts, not fear.

I’m not going to go over the basics of coronaviruses and what you can do to reduce your risk of contracting or transmitting the disease because there’s plenty of accurate information from the WHO, the CDC, and other public health departments about that.

COVID-19’s animal origins

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, current evidence suggests that COVID-19 has an animal source. However, at this point there’s not enough scientific evidence to identify the animal source or figure out how the virus crossed from animals to people. Genetic data shows that the COVID-19 virus is a close relative of other coronaviruses circulating in certain species of bats, but scientist don’t know if there was an intermediate host between bats and people.

What we know about COVID-19 and pets

On February 27, 2020, animal health authorities in Hong Kong identified a 17-year-old Pomeranian who tested “weak positive” with a test designed to detect COVID-19. The test used was specific to COVID-19 and does not cross-react with other coronaviruses carried by dogs and cats. The dog was tested several subsequent times with nasal swabs and oral samples and still showed a weak positive.

The next set of tests scientists are doing on the dog is to see if the dog’s immune system is mounting a response to the virus. This will tell us whether the test detected complete virus RNA or just fragments of the virus’s RNA.

That said, international diagnostic lab IDEXX tested thousands of dogs and cats for COVID-19 in order to develop a test for veterinarians to use. It examined these samples using PCR testing and found that no dogs or cats tested positive for COVID-19.

So, what about COVID-19 and cats?

As of this writing (March 15, 2020), there is no indication that COVID-19 can be passed from humans to cats or from cats to humans. So please, don’t be afraid to hug your cat! During these grim times, you and your cat(s) need each other more than ever.

Generally, for your and your cat’s health, follow basic hygiene measures: wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after being around or handling your cat, their food, or supplies. It’s also recommended that you avoid kissing, licking, or sharing food with your cat. (Good luck with that! I know I haven’t been avoiding kissing Thomas, Bella, and Tara, and I’ve had zero luck keeping Thomas from licking me!)

If you get sick with COVID-19, veterinary and public health experts are saying that you should limit your contact with your cat until more information is known about the virus. Have another member of your household take care of your cat’s food and litter box if possible. If you must take care of your cat while you’re sick, use good hygiene and wear a face mask if possible.

Stock up, but don’t panic

While you shouldn’t run out and buy every single bag or can of your cat’s favorite food or litter that you can find, it is a good idea to keep a couple of weeks’ supplies on hand, including any medications your cat needs. This will be crucial if you have to self-quarantine, and it can help if there are supply chain disruptions as COVID-19 spreads around the world.

The bottom line

Right now, everything scientists know about COVID-19 and cats (or other pets) suggests that the disease is transmitted from human to human, but it can’t be transmitted from people to cats or vice versa. Take basic hygiene precautions before leaving and after returning to your home. If you’re sick, have someone else take care of your cat if possible, and if not, use a mask and hygiene procedures.

If you want to keep up on the latest developments on coronavirus and potential transmission between people and animals, here are some sources that I recommend:

How to be a good human in the age of COVID-19

Just to wrap up this article, I want to give you some advice about how to help your fellow humans, which I tell you from my experience at the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus crisis:

  1. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before leaving and after returning to your home. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  2. Don’t leave your home if you don’t have to. Work from home if you’re able to do so. If you have to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy or the pet store, try to go at non-peak hours.
  3. FFS, if you’re sick, stay home! I know that not every American has the privilege of doing this–there are way too many of us who don’t have paid time off or health insurance benefits. But if you do, then do it!
  4. Be kind to Asians in your community. Make a point of patronizing Asian restaurants and grocery stores. It’s not Asian people’s fault that the virus originated in China, and you’re not going to get COVID-19 by being near or doing business with Asian people.
  5. If you use delivery or ride-share services, tip as well as you possibly can. These people are risking their health so you don’t have to. It’s the least you can do to tip generously.
  6. Act in the best interests of your community, not just yourself. You’re not a special snowflake. If your local government says stay home, stay home. If your local government bans large gatherings, don’t go out to the clubs, even if they are still open. Check in on your elderly or disabled neighbors–maybe ask them if you can do some shopping for them so they don’t risk exposure to the virus. And don’t forget, we have all these great tech tools like video chatting that can keep us from feeling lonely while we stay home and do our best to #flattenthecurve so our health systems don’t become overwhelmed.