The British Veterinary Association warns that cats can carry the virus in their fur if they are held by their infected owners

By Claudia Harmata
April 09, 2020 02:59 PM
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Officials are advising that cat owners who are displaying symptoms of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) or are self-isolating due to potential exposure should consider keeping their pets indoors to help stop the spread of the virus.

On Wednesday, the British Veterinary Association released a statement explaining that pets “can act as fomites” — an object that can be contaminated with infectious agents and transfer them to a new host — and could potentially contain the virus in their fur after being held or touched by their infected owners.

“From the small number of cases it appears that dogs do not show symptoms, but cats can show clinical signs of the disease,” the statement read. “It is also the case that animals can act as fomites, as the virus could be on their fur in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs. That’s why our main advice for pet owners continues to be to practice good hand hygiene. And, as a precaution, for pet owners who have COVID-19 or who are self-isolating we are recommending that you keep your cat indoors if possible, during that time.”

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“We are not advising that all cats are kept indoors. Only cats from infected households or where their owners are self-isolating, and only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors,” the statement continued. “Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.”

“There have been a tiny number of cases of COVID-19 in animals and in all cases, it is likely that the transmission was human to animal. There is no evidence that pets can pass COVID-19 to their owners,” it added, reassuring pet owners that at this time, there is no evidence that animals can pass the virus to humans.

As of Thursday, April 9, there have been a handful of COVID-19 cases detected in animals in the U.S., including a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and the American Veterinary Medical Association have maintained that there is no evidence that domestic pets can spread COVID-19 to their owners or to other humans.

The United States Department of Agriculture reiterated these beliefs in their recent statement on the Bronx Zoo tiger testing positive for coronavirus.

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people,” the USDA wrote in their statement, adding that they are monitoring the situation with the CDC.

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In response to the few confirmed cases of COVID-19 in animals, Dr. Douglas Kratt, president-elect of the AVMA, recently told PEOPLE that pet owners should keep calm and “not overreact.”

The veterinarian added that the animals who have contracted COVID-19 so far were “being cared for by people that actively had the COVID-19 virus” and were “in an environment where they were more at risk.”

Healthy pet owners, according to Dr. Kratt, shouldn’t treat or look at their pets differently because of these cases.

“What I’m concerned about is that people are going to think that their pets are going to play a major role in this virus. And at this point, there’s nothing to prove that that’s going to be the case,” he said.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.