A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York has tested positive for coronavirus, sparking fears that cats can carry and pass on the virus to owners.
As the government urges people to follow strict social distancing rules, should we also be staying away from cats?
Here’s what you should know.
Can cats get coronavirus?
There is currently no evidence that animals can transmit coronavirus to humans, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
However, there have been reports of cats and dogs contracting the virus in various countries, including a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, who was diagnosed on Monday (6 April).
The four-year-old tiger, named Nadia, is understood to be the first known animal to be infected with coronavirus in the US.
Nadia is believed to have been infected by an asymptomatic zoo keeper, and displayed symptoms including a dry cough late last month after exposure to the employee.
The test result was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.
Can I get coronavirus from my cat?
A research team at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China have found that cats are highly susceptible to coronavirus, and that they are able to transmit the virus to their own species.
As coronavirus is a new virus, investigations are ongoing to identify its source and how it is spread, but it is currently understood that the highest risk of spread is through human to human transmission.
There is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of the virus, and human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact, according to the WHO.
What precautions should pet owners take?
While there is, to date, no evidence that companion animals, such as pet cats or dogs, can transmit the virus to humans, it is theoretically possible.
Animals and humans can sometimes share diseases, so it is recommended that people who have symptoms of coronavirus limit their contact with their pets until more information about the virus is known.
Animals will likely have some of the virus on their skin or coat, so it could potentially be transmitted to their owner if they handle their pet and it has coronavirus.
This has not yet been proven, but the WHO advises pet owners to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with their animals, and to avoid touching pets that belong to other people.
Pet owners should ensure they follow basic hygiene measures and wash their hands before and after being around or handling animals and their food.
Should I keep my cat indoors?
The British Veterinary Association has recommended that cat owners only need to keep their pet indoors if they someone in the household is showing signs of coroanvirus.
Research has shown that cats may be able to catch coronavirus from other cats, but owners “should not worry” about the risk of infection from their pets.
If you are ill with symptoms of coronavirus, it is advised you avoid close contact with your pet and have another member of your household take care of it.
If you must look after your pet, you should maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask if possible.
Pets that belong to owners who are infected with coronavirus should also be kept indoors as much as possible, and contact with these animals should be avoided as much as possible.
Can cats get sick and die of coronavirus?
Nadia the tiger at Bronx Zoo is the first known case in the world of an animal contracting coronavirus from a human and becoming sick, according to Paul Calle, chief veterinarian at the zoo.
There have been isolated cases of pets testing positive in other parts of the world, including a cat in Belgium and a dog in Hong Kong, but experts have stressed that there is no evidence that animals can spread the virus to humans.
Nadia’s sister, Azul, along with two Amur tigers and three African lions also showed symptoms of the virus, but are all expected to make a full recovery.
Bronx Zoo said it is not known how the virus will develop in tigers and lions, as species can react differently, but the animals are being closely monitored.
The cats displayed some symptoms of coronavirus including a dry cough and loss of appetite, but are said to be doing well under veterinary care.
It is not yet known if and how symptoms could manifest in domestic cats.
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