There have been no reliable reports that our pets can become infected carriers and therefore shedders of COVID-19. However there is a very limited risk that if they are in direct contact with the virus, for example when handled by an infected owner, that they could become surface carriers of the virus, in the same way that door handles or surfaces could harbour the infection. However, the risk of this is still limited as their coats are porous and therefore don’t make a good surface for virus survival and spread. In reality the risk of infection would be higher for virus carried on plastic food packaging!
It has been incorrectly implied that all cats should be kept indoors. Whilst this may be sensible in some situations this is certainly not blanket advice at this time. If you are in close contact with your cat and you have symptoms of COVID-19 then keeping your cat indoors, if possible, is good practice, especially if they visit other households. However, this is not always feasible and forcing some cats to stay indoors can cause serious, stress-related illness. The prospect of having to keep all cats inside has caused distress for many owners and we would encourage anyone with concerns to contact us so we can advise based on your specific circumstances.
The message should be to take a sensible approach and maintain strict hygiene. Remember:
• Wash your hands before and after petting your dog or cat. This is always a good idea as your pet could carry bacteria and viruses of all sorts on their coats. It is also sensible to avoid rubbing your face into them at this time.
• If you have symptoms of COVID-19 then isolating your pet within your household, if possible, will reduce the theoretical risk of them carrying it to other people outside your household Otherwise try to limit your contact with them so as to avoid contaminating them – i.e. prevent petting and close contact with them and at times of closer contact, say when feeding, obey strict hygiene and possibly wear a mask to reduce spread.
• Avoid all interaction with other people’s pets. We know how tempting it is to say hello to every dog and cat you see while out on your daily walk but, as there is a very limited risk of surface infection spread, just avoid it at the moment. If you do stroke a dog or cat that isn’t yours then wash your hands straight away afterwards.
• If you have a regular visit from a neighbour’s cat then try to avoid interaction and keep them out of your home. This way there can be no risk to you from the cat – no matter how unlikely it is.
The take-home message is that risk of infection from pets to humans has not been proven and is likely to be negligible. However, common sense tells us that a pet that has been in contact with infected humans could carry virus on their coats, even though it is not a good surface for transmission. Therefore just adopt a sensible approach and maintain good hygiene.
There is no need at all to look at your pets in a different way. Our pets bring us a huge amount of comfort and joy - much needed at the moment. Don’t be concerned by poorly-worded media articles that promote fear – and that goes for everyday and not just now!