Fears for cats after new study shows they can be infected with coronavirus

Could your feline friend be putting you in danger of contracting COVID-19?

Evidence is building that cats need to either be kept at a distance or confined to your bubble after a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found laboratory cats can readily become infected with SARS-CoV-2.

These infected cats were then put in cages with new cats - and within days they had passed the virus along.

The findings suggest pet cats may be capable of becoming infected with the virus when exposed to people or other cats positive for SARS-CoV-2.

"It's something for people to keep in mind," says Peter Halfmann, a research professor at UW-Madison who helped lead the study.

"If they are quarantined in their house and are worried about passing COVID-19 to children and spouses, they should also worry about giving it to their animals."

While people might be able to infect their cats, there's still no evidence yet that the virus can be passed the other way - with cats infecting humans.

However other scientists fear it could cross the species boundaries, as it already has once.

"Experience shows that human-animal transmission of viral diseases are significant," Massey University Professor in evolutionary ecology Dr Steven Trewick writes on his blog.

"The success of a viral strain is measured only in its survival. As a surviving host individual will usually eventually develop some immunity to a particular infection, viral survival requires a large and accessible pool of susceptible hosts, so there is a selective advantage to being able to invade different species."

And other experts warn that a cuddly cat could still carry the virus on their fur.

"At the moment there is no evidence that cats and dogs can transmit the virus, but it doesn't rule them out acting as a carrier - the same way we can cough and sneeze into our hands and then spread it to someone else, it does follow then we could cough into our cat's coat and then the cat goes and someone else strokes it and picks it up," Charly Quinn, a veterinary surgeon at Vetora, told Magic Talk last month.

"But there's no need to get really anxious about that. It's really important that we don't go overboard with it and just maintain normal hygiene practises. If you let your dog kiss your face, it's probably a good time to stop that."

What does the Ministry of Primary Industries say?

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has published advice on its site about caring for pets and animals during the pandemic.

"There remains no evidence that domestic animals (pets or livestock) can spread COVID-19 and routine testing of animals for COVID-19 is not justified. However, it's good practice to wash your hands before and after interacting with animals," MPI says.

"International advice is that, as a precautionary measure, people sick with COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets and other animals, as they would with people.

"Where there is COVID-19 in a household, it is recommended that animals are not moved off the property."