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Picture for illustrative purposes Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: Cats can contract coronavirus from humans and owners should take care to avoid contact and disinfect surfaces, however there is no evidence to suggest that the virus can be passed on by pets to humans, vets and doctors have told Gulf News.

Dr Ulrich Wernery

Speaking in a virtual seminar organised by Dubai Police’s K9 Department recently Dr Ulrich Wernery, scientific director of Dubai’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) said, “Recent studies showed that cats can catch coronavirus and are able to infect each other with it.

“If a person is infected then it’s better to stay away from their pets,” he said.

“Cats are highly susceptible to the virus unlike dogs, therefore pet owners shouldn’t kiss their animals or put the pets very close to them as precautionary measure.”

Despite dogs having a lower susceptibility to contracting the virus, he said that owners shouldn’t take a chance, and should disinfect their animals and surfaces with safe substances.

“Cats can be infected even if they walk on a surface that carries COVID-19,” he said, adding that the virus stays in animals from between eight to 10 days.

“As cats lick themselves, people should disinfect the surfaces, clean their pets and use safe disinfectant sprays. Always keep pets away from other pets as a precaution to stop the transmission of the virus,” he added.

Dr Sandhya Shenoy

Dr. Sandhya Shenoy, Specialist of Internal Medicine at Prime Medical Centre in Dubai, said that there are reports of pet cats, dogs and even a tiger in a New York Zoo testing positive for COVID-19 after contracting it from their carer.

“But there’s no evidence to suggest cats and other pets could spread COVID-19 to humans,” she said. “The spread is from human to human.”

As a result of this she said no one should abandon or harm their pets out of fear of contracting coronavirus.

“In fact the infected owner spreads it to the cat, and pets are side victims to the virus they do not propagate it.”

Vet, Dr Rokas Proscevicius of Modern Veterinary Clinic Dubai, agreed.

“Cats have a feline form of coronavirus that is highly contagious to cats, called feline infectious peritonitis,” he said.

Dr Rokas Proscevicious

“It causes severe and at times fatal illness but is absolutely not related to human coronavirus as those viruses are of different strain meaning they are connected only by name.

“Most viruses are host specific, meaning if it is specific to cats like feline coronavirus, its main target is the cat.

“Experimentally it has been shown to be able to infect dogs. But even in this case the virus is still absolutely different from COVID-19, the human virus, in terms of who it attacks and how it causes illness.”

Dr Proscevicius added that there is limited data in terms of COVID-19 positive cases transmitting the disease to their pets but there are well documented cases of this happening.

“All reported cases did not develop significant illness but most common clinical signs were sneezing, coughing, ocular discharge. One cat had gastrointestinal signs as well,” he said.

“The current spread of COVID-19 is human to human transmission and to date there is no evidence that companion animals play a significant role in spreading the disease.”

Despite this, Dr Proscevicius said, “You should wash your hands before and after being around or handling animals, avoid kissing, being licked, or sharing food,” he added.

“When possible, people who are infected should avoid close contact with their pets and have another member of their household care for their animals.”

Major Salah Al Mazroui, director of the K9 Department at Dubai Police, said they have precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus by conducting thermal screening everyday on their staff, while disinfecting kennels and surrounding surfaces regularly.

“We made 40 isolation yards for animals at K9 in case we detect any infection of the virus among the dogs. We conduct tests for all trainees as precautiinay measure,” he added.

What should I do if I have pets?

  • Wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies.
  • Practice good pet hygiene and clean up after pets properly.
  • Disinfect your pet and their places with safe materials
  • Talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about your pet’s health.