Coronavirus: UK confirms first case of ‘very rare’ infection in pet cat

No suggestion can be passed from pets to humans

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
,Zoe Tidman
Monday 27 July 2020 14:16 BST
Cats highly susceptible to coronavirus

The virus responsible for Covid-19 has been detected in a pet cat in the UK for the first time.

The infection was confirmed following tests last week.

There is no evidence to suggest that the animal was involved in the transmission of the disease to its owners or that pets can transmit the virus to people.

Christine Middlemiss, the chief veterinary officer, said it was “very rare” for a cat to contract the virus.

To date, infected animals show only mild signs of the disease and recover within a few days.

Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, said: “This is the first case of a domestic cat testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK but should not be a cause for alarm.

“The investigation into this case suggests that the infection was spread from humans to animal, and not the other way round.

“At this time, there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease to humans.”

Experts said the available evidence suggested that the cat contracted Covid-19 from its owners, who had previously tested positive.

Downing Street said the animal had shown symptoms of “a respiratory infection, with a nasal discharge and some shortness of breath”.

A private vet initially diagnosed the illness as feline herpes virus, which is a common cat respiratory infection. However, the sample was also tested for Covid-19 as part of a research programme.

All, including the cat, have since made a full recovery.

Public Health England advises that people wash their hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.

Experts have also suggested infected pet owners, or those who think they may have caught coronavirus, avoid close contact with their animals as a precaution.

Daniella Dos Santos, the president of the British Veterinary Association, said: “We also recommend that owners who are confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19 should keep their cat indoors if possible, but only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors. Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.”

The cat is the first confirmed case of an animal infected with the coronavirus strain in the UK.

A team of scientists at the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research are behind the programme to screen hundreds of samples for Covid-19 infections in the UK cat population and have completed a full genome sequencing of the virus found in the infected cat.

Professor Margaret Hosie, who works on the project, said there have been “sporadic reports” of cats in households where people have contracted Covid-19 testing positive for the virus themselves, such as in Hong Kong, France and Belgium.

“This is the first report of an infected cat in the UK,” she said.

“All available evidence suggests that the cat was infected from its owners, who had previously tested positive.”

Professor Hosie added: “There was no transmission of the virus to other animals or people in the household.”

Research from the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China has suggested cats can not only catch coronavirus, but can also spread it to each other.

Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said: “We know that domestic animals like cats and dogs can be infected with the Sars2 coronavirus, but the evidence suggests that the animals don’t get sick.

“They produce very low levels of virus, which is why we don’t think they can transmit the virus to humans.”

The infected cat in the UK was tested for the virus at the Animal and Plant Health Agency laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, on 22 July.

The case has been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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