Human-to-cat COVID-19 virus transmission: Belgium

My Guelph (that’s in Canada) friend, hockey buddy and veterinarian, Scott Weese, has done an admirable job of updating the world on pets and coronavirus through his Worms and Germs Blog.

He notes that a cat in Belgium, owned by a person with COVID-19, has tested positive for the virus. The cat developed diarrhea, vomiting and respiratory difficulty about 1 week after the owner got sick, and SARS-CoV-2 was found in the cat’s feces. It’s not clear whether the test used was PCR (which can detected live or dead virus) or virus isolation (which only detects live virus), or if other samples were also tested. It’s also not clear whether the cat was sick because of the infection with SARS-CoV-2 or whether it had some other co-incidental problem (or whether the cat is still alive or not).  They were clear that this is another suspected case of human-to-animal transmission, and not the other way around.

Is this surprising?

Not really. We’ve been saying there’s likely going to be some human-to-pet transmission, and cats have been a concern because they are theoretically a susceptible species based on analysis of the virus and cell receptors.

Is this concerning?

I don’t have any more concern today than I did before this report, since it was likely that this was going to happen, and animals (still) presumably pose very limited risk. An infected cat isn’t a big concern in the household since the person who exposed the cat in the first place is the main risk. This virus is being transmitted very effectively person-person, so animals likely play little role, if any in the grand scheme of things.  But we still want to take basic steps to keep the risk as low as possible.

So, what do we do?

The same thing we’ve been saying all along. If you’re sick, stay away from animals just like you would other people. If you have COVID-19 and have been around your pets, keep your pets inside and away from other people. While the risk of transmission to or from a pet is low, we don’t want an exposed pet tracking this virus out of the household (just like we don’t want an infected person doing that).

This is completely unsurprising. It doesn’t mean things are changing or that we have more risk today than yesterday. It just emphasizes again the importance of paying attention to basic infection control measures.

If you’re worried about getting COVID-19, worry about your human contacts, not your pets. Keep pets away from high risk people, but otherwise, your risk is from exposure to people, not your pet.