In a previous piece, we learned that dogs can host the new coronavirus in their respiratory tract briefly but generally do not get sick from it. There is no evidence that such a situation can produce enough viral offspring to cause infection in any other animal or human. Ferrets fall into the same category. Cats, on the other hand, are a slightly different story. A particular protein in their respiratory tract is similar to one humans have, the one that answers the door when novel coronavirus comes knocking. This makes them more susceptible than dogs and ferrets. Worldwide, a small number of cats have become infected and mildly to moderately ill with COVID-19. Furthermore, a cat that is artificially loaded up with novel coronavirus in the lab is capable passing the virus to another cat housed in the same room.
If you are a cat owner, note that there is absolutely no call for panic. Remember that if a cat does become ill, he has contracted his COVID-19 from a human, not from hanging around with other cats at spring break, Mardi Gras, choir practice, or a protest. If the new coronavirus does get a foothold in your home, it came from you and not the cat. If you are anxious about the safety of your pet, know that veterinarians haven’t observed any increase in sick cats that from COVID-positive homes. Veterinary health insurance companies are able to analyze large numbers of claims and report that there has been no recent spike in dog or cat health problems. All in all, even the most dangerously vulnerable pet can wield only a tiny, tiny paintbrush of novel coronavirus against a human, while an infected fellow human (symptomatic or not) is more like a toddler with an open gallon can of interior latex.
You might not have realized that there is a COVID testing program for US cats and dogs. For months, two major veterinary diagnostic testing companies have been testing thousands of swabs that were submitted for other purposes (at their own expense). It is still incredibly rare for an animal to test COVID positive, so rare that each positive pet has secured their own spot in the national headlines. So rare that you can still count them all on one hand. For an up-to-the-minute tally, the USDA maintains a page showing exactly which animals have tested positive along with a date and location.
Veterinarians are doing much more than conducting a surveillance program for pet COVID. Animal diagnostic labs are currently offering to partner with human medical labs to assist in processing the massive number of human tests rolling out of American screening sites each day. Veterinary colleges are using their expertise with cat and cattle coronaviruses to work feverishly toward a vaccine for humans and to explore the reasons why this virus behaves the way it does inside our bodies. Veterinarians might be the ones to turn the tide in this massive global outbreak that’s only a minor nuisance for the animal patients they serve.
Dr. M.S. Regan