COVID-19 in a Cat: Belgium

I don’t have any more concern today than I did before this report

March 27, 2020 (published)
Photo courtesy of Depositphotos

COVID-19 virus in a cat: Update March 27

A cat in Belgium owned by a person with COVID-19 has been reported to be positive for the virus. The cat developed diarrhea, vomiting and respiratory difficulty about 1 week after the owner got sick. SARS-CoV-2 was found in the cat’s feces. (It’s not clear whether that was by PCR or virus isolation, or if other samples were tested). It’s also unclear whether the cat was sick because of the infection or whether it had some other co-incidental problem.

Is this surprising?

  • Not really. We’ve been saying there’s likely going to be some human-pet transmission and cats have been a concern because they are theoretically a susceptible species.

Is this concerning?

  • I don’t have any more concern today than I did before this report, since it was likely that this was going to be found and animals presumably pose very limited risk. An infected cat isn’t a big concern in the household since the person that it got it from is the main risk. This virus is being transmitted very effectively person-person so animals would presumably play little role, if any. What we want to do is take basic steps to keep it as low as possible.

So, what do we do?

  • The same thing we’ve been saying all along. If you’re sick, stay away from animals. If you have COVID-19 and have been around your pets, keep your pets inside and away from other people. While the risk is low, we don’t want an exposed pet tracking this virus out of the household (just like we don’t want an infected person doing that.)

This is completely unsurprising. It doesn’t mean things are changing or that we have more risk today than yesterday. It just means we need to pay attention to some basic infection control measures.

If you’re worried about getting COVID-19, worry about your human contacts, not your pets. Keep them away from high risk people but otherwise, your risk is from human exposure, not your pet.

COVID-19 virus in a dog: Update March 26

Much has been reported about the 17-year-old Pomeranian in Hong Kong that was the first dog to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  It was positive on a series of PCR tests on nasal and oral swabs over the first week it was in quarantine.  They also collected blood samples to test for antibodies against the virus. The blood first tests were negative, which wasn’t too surprising, but was taken by some to mean the dog wasn’t infected (just “contaminated” with virus such that there was no immune response). However, subsequent testing of a sample taken back on March 3 showed that the dog did indeed produce antibodies against the virus, and therefore was definitely infected at some level.  Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, the dog died a few days after being released from quarantine (it’s not suspected that its death had anything to do with its infection with SARS-CoV-2).

The update from the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department also provides some more information about other testing they’ve done to date. They have tested 17 dogs and 8 cats from households with human COVID-19 infections, and two of the dogs tested positive.  It’s interesting (and encouraging) that no cats have tested positive so far (editor's note, see above) since I’ve had more concerns about the susceptibility of cats, but finding positive results in 2 out of 17 dogs definitely tells me we need to study this more.

This report  doesn’t tell us whether dogs and cats are a source of infection, because being infected doesn’t necessarily mean an individual is infectious (i.e. able to pass the virus on). We need to test more animals to see how common infection is and whether live virus can be recovered from infected animals. Unfortunately getting samples from households of infected people with pets has been a challenge due to the social distancing and human-to-human transmission concerns (which are clearly paramount).

Reprinted with permission from Worms and Germs Blog

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