COVID 19 Pandemic

uring this crisis you try to impart on your loved ones the importance of hand-washing and social distancing and maintaining an adequate supply of beans. You tell them, “There may come a time soon when I get sick, and I just need to know that you’re prepared.” But they don’t listen. They look you in the eye and knock a pen off the table before sashaying into your bedroom to fall asleep in a sunbeam. You can’t tell if they understood anything at all.

Cats, it turns out, appear to be capable of contracting COVID-19 from humans, though there is still little to no evidence that a person can contract the disease from their pet.

This is a blow considering that just last month, we were told that it was unlikely dogs could contract it from humans. That was a huge relief. Maybe we grew complacent re: pets. Then we all bonded over Tiger King, a docuseries about the strange world of private zoos in this country, which, we learned, house hundreds of big cats. It helped to get our minds off the tragedy at our doorsteps. But now, in a devastating twist, the virus has come for even that: On Sunday the Bronx Zoo in New York reported a potential outbreak. One Malayan tiger tested positive after displaying symptoms, while her sister, two Amur tigers, and three African lions are also showing symptoms, including a dry cough and loss of appetite.

Despite those symptoms, “the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement. “It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.” They are believed to have been infected by a caretaker, an asymptomatic human carrier of the disease.

There was already mounting evidence that cats could contract the virus, from both controlled studies and anecdotal evidence. A veterinary research lab in China concluded through a study published on Wednesday that cats could contract the disease and spread it to other cats, but dogs, chickens, pigs, and ducks were less susceptible (the study has not yet been peer-reviewed). Reports appeared that a cat in Belgium had contracted the disease from its owner, and the case potentially reframes a New York Post story from early February that focused on a British teacher in Wuhan. Within his tale of surviving COVID-19 by drinking hot whiskey was a mystery about his kitten, who became sick and died over the course of his own illness. “My kitten caught the feline coronavirus and developed pneumonia and died, but I don’t think I caught it from her,” he told a local news site in Wales. “I think that was just coincidence.”

Experts told The Guardian that cats were not a “vector” of the disease’s spread. “Human-to-human transmission is clearly the main driver, so there is no need to panic about cats as an important source of virus,” said professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.

If you’re infected with COVID or suspected to be, the World Organisation for Animal Health recommends that “basic hygiene measures should always be implemented” when handling pets. “This includes hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.” Arrange for someone else in the household to take care of them if possible. Otherwise avoid close contact with them or try to wear a face mask. Keep them indoors as much as you can. Basically, treat the animals as you would a roommate or a family member. This should not be a big leap for most pet parents.

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