Michael Wang, MD., Ph.D., member of AFCR Scientific Advisory Board
Cancer patients living with their pets may be becoming nervous because several recent news reports revealed that animals have tested positive for COVID-19 in different countries, including the U.S.
A domestic cat in Belgium was reported to be infected with the coronavirus on March 27. Results of positive blood tests on specific antibodies against the virus among 15 cats were reported in Wuhan, China—city of the epidemic’s original outbreak—on April 2. Most recently, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York was reported as infected with COVID-19 on April 5.
Here is the question that is reasonably being posed by some members of the cancer community: “Hello, we’ve had enough hard time being self-quarantined at home; are you telling me I also have to keep my cats away from me?”
No, you don’t need to. The reported cases are of human-to-animal transmission of the coronavirus, not the other way around, and there has been no evidence of companion animals, including cats, transmitting the disease to people. It seems that cats can be infected, but there are only a few reports of cats becoming sick. As to dogs, limited studies suggest that while our canine companions may be able to become infected, they do not get sick or spread the virus.
For cancer patients, remember, it’s always wise to be more cautious than not, especially as our knowledge about SARS-Cov-2, the name of the virus in question which causes the COVID-19 disease, is still very limited. In short, no credible reporting of pet-to-human transmission does not equate to mean evidence won’t be discovered in the future.
Hence, if you are a cancer patient with a pet, you may should consider the following guidance:
- If you feel sick, limit contact with your pets; wash your hands before and after interacting with them; refrain from hugging, kissing and sharing food with them; and do not mingle pets from different households.
- If your pet seems to be unhealthy, call your veterinarian to arrange a clinic visit for potential COVID-19 illness. Let your veterinarian know ahead of time if your pet was, to your knowledge, exposed to a coronavirus patient or if your pet has shown any symptoms. If a test is needed, the veterinarian can contact a state animal health agency to make the necessary arrangements.
- When walking your dog outdoors, keep at least six feet between you and others, leash your canine and wear a facial covering and protective eye glasses. Always remember that you may bump into asymptomatic COVID-19 patients on the sidewalks or in the parks of your community.
I hope the above information helps you—and your furry friend—to stay home, stay safe and stay connected.
- Cat infected with COVID-19 from owner in Belgium. https://www.livescience.com/cat-infected-covid-19-from-owner.html
- SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing serum antibodies in cats: a serological investigation. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.01.021196v1
- Tiger tests positive for coronavirus at Bronx Zoo, first known case in the world. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/04/tiger-coronavirus-covid19-positive-test-bronx-zoo/
- COVID-19 and Animals FAQ. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-animals-faq.pdf