The British Veterinary Association said “owners should not worry” about any risk of infection from their pets. But current evidence suggests cats may be able to catch the virus from other cats.
Dr Angel Almendros, from City University in Hong Kong, told BBC News: “There isn’t a single case of a pet dog or cat infecting a human with COVID-19.”
To prevent any risk of pets carrying the virus from owners’ hands in their fur, British Veterinary Association (BVA), president Daniella Dos Santos encouraged owners to take “sensible precautions”.
She said: “Practise good hand hygiene, try and keep cats indoors.
“Avoid unnecessary contact with your pets, such a hugging or allowing them to lick your face, and do not touch other people’s dogs when on walks.”
Dr Angel Almendros, in a recent paper on the subject, cited the case of a 17-year-old pet dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for COVID-19.
Thought to be infected by its owner, the dog was later released from testing after being cleared of the virus.
Shortly after its release, the dog tragically passed away, likely as a result of the stress induced from the testing process, vets in Hong Kong claimed.
Dr Almendros said: “But even where we have these positive results, the animals are not becoming sick.
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“As in the previous Sars-Cov outbreak in Hong Kong, in 2003, where a number of pets were infected but never became sick, there is no evidence that dogs or cats could become sick or infect people.”
More research is being undertaken, looking into how the virus might spread from humans to animals.
It appears cats may be susceptible to infection from respiratory droplets – the particles that shoot out when people cough, sneeze or breath out.
Following a case in Belgium where a cat tested positive about a week after its owner showed symptoms associated with the virus, Chinese scientists carried out tests that provided evidence of infected cats transmitting the virus to other cats.
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More recently was news that tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York had contracted the virus from a worker who was carrying the virus but was asymptomatic.
“It is interesting to note in the experimental evidence that cats can become infected, alongside the apparent infection of a tiger,” Prof Bryan Charleston, director of the UK’s Pirbright Institute, which specialises in the study of infectious disease, said.
All of this has led the “evidence on the transmissibility” building up a solid case.
Moreover, there is also evidence humans can transmit respiratory infections to wild great apes.
This makes the global spread of the virus a particular concern for conservationists working to protect endangered wildlife around the world.
In all of the mentioned cases, infected humans are the animal that pose the biggest threat to other species.
Prof Charleston said: “We know that the virus did make the jump from an animal into humans (at the beginning of this crisis) but that appears to be because people were eating those infected animals.”
Relating the information back to cats, the British Veterinary Association draws attention to how an animal’s fur could carry the virus for a time “if a pet were to have come into contact with someone who was sick”.
Thus the advice to keep pets indoors for the foreseeable future.
Dr Almendros advised: “Treat pets like other people in your household.
“So if you’re feeling sick, it’s better not to interact with them.”
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