Pet owners have been given new guidelines from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) following confusion around whether cats are allowed to be outside during the Covid-19 lockdown. While previously, veterinary scientists warned cats should be kept indoors, the BVA has now said ‘owners should not worry’ about the risk of infection from pets.
‘There isn't a single case of a pet dog or cat infecting a human with Covid-19,’ Dr Angel Almendros, from City University in Hong Kong, told BBC News. However, previous research had indicated that the virus can be spread between cats.
Pets have been a huge source of comfort to people recently – so much so that adoptions soared in the weeks before lockdown was announced, with the RSPCA seeing a 150% rise in visits to their adoption site at the beginning of March.
However, the confusion around whether pets are at risk of catching Covid-19 or whether they can transfer it to humans has caused increased anxiety. Now, Dr Almendros has said it is most sensible to keep cats indoors during the outbreak, according to the BBC.
While the BVA agreed with that advice initially, with president Daniella Dos Santos telling the BBC so, they have since clarified cats need to be kept inside ‘only if someone in their own household showed symptoms'.
‘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,’ she said, encouraging pet-owners to ‘practise good hygiene’.
In a recent paper, it was found that one dog in Hong Kong had tested positive for Covid-19 presumably infected by its owner. ‘But even where we have these positive results, the animals are not becoming sick,’ D Almendros said. ‘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.’
But with all of these conflicting opinions, it’s becoming increasingly confusing to know what exactly we should be doing. Should we not be cuddling our pets, for example, if the virus can exist in their fur? We spoke to an expert Caroline Reay, Head of Veterinary Services at Blue Cross pet charity, to find out…
Does my cat or dog need to be on lockdown too?
‘Cats are still allowed to go out – if you pet them on their return it is a good idea to wash your hands. If you or a member of the household is self-isolating because they have coronavirus, or signs of coronavirus, cats should also be kept indoors.
‘Dogs can be taken on walks by members of the household during their daily outing for exercise, provided those people don’t have symptoms of coronavirus. People and dogs should keep at least two metres apart from other people and dogs at all times while on walks.’
My cat is on lockdown with me, how can I keep them entertained?
‘To keep your cat happy while indoors it is important to keep up their natural instincts and make sure they have access to climb up high, play with them using toys like a wand and there are ways to make dinnertime more interesting and encourage them to "hunt" for their food.’
What do I do if I have symptoms and a pet?
‘If you have symptoms and need to remain at home for seven days, or 14 days as a household, you can ask someone outside of the home to walk your dog for you. Dog walkers should wear gloves and throw them away afterwards and use a different lead to the owners' and wash with soap and water when home. Dog walkers and owners should wash their hands before and after handling a pet.
‘If you do not have anyone else to walk your dog it is a good idea to keep them physically and mentally stimulated through play and games – the Blue Cross website has plenty of ideas for this.'
Can I catch coronavirus from my pet?
‘There is no evidence of pets transmitting infection to people.’
Do I have to be careful petting my animal?
‘Like any other surface, the virus can get on their fur so it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after handling your pets and it’s good hygiene practice for other potential infections like E. coli and Toxocara.
Should I be worried about petting other people’s animals?
‘If [someone is] walking someone else’s dog from a household with coronavirus, or suspected coronavirus, they should wear, gloves, avoid touching their face and wipe the dog with a pet-safe wipe or clean, damp cloth before the walk and keep at least two metres from other people and dogs and keep the dog on a lead to prevent others touching their fur.’
How can I keep my pet healthy during lockdown?
‘If playing or training with your pets using food treats, consider reducing the amount in their main meal, especially if they aren’t getting their usual daily exercise to prevent them putting on too much weight.’