COVID-19 and Cats – Facts and FAQs Part 2

If you have missed part 1 we would highly recommend reading this first here.

FIG. 1 EXAMPLE OF A VIRAL INFECTION

For an animal (including humans) to be important in the transmission of a virus, the following process must occur:

This could explain the handful of pet cases that have tested PCR positive and antibody positive, but they do not seem to be a relevant source of transmission – the virus in those animals is stopped in its tracks, before it gets to the stage of being transmitted onward.

Q3: Does my cat need to be vaccinated during lockdown?

A3: Bottom Line: For an adult cat that has previously received a primary course (usually 2 vaccinations over 2-4 weeks) followed by a booster one year later, you do not need to get your cat vaccinated if their booster is due during lockdown.

(NB this advice is primarily aimed at UK cat owners; other countries may have specific legal requirements regarding Rabies vaccination – please refer to national and regional legislation accordingly)

A bit more:

There are some special situations where vaccination of cats or kittens would be recommended* even during lockdown:-

  1. Completion of a kitten primary course if the first vaccination was given before lockdown^
  2. Starting and completing a primary course for kittens or previously unvaccinated adult cats IF they MUST go into a cattery, rehoming centre, or any home where other cats live^

^Note that the normal interval of two to four weeks between the first and the second vaccinations can be extended to six weeks, if by doing so the second vaccination can be given when social distancing restrictions have been lifted.

  1. For a cat that goes outside – the first annual booster after its primary course, allowing an extra grace period of 3 months from when it was due. For example, if your cat’s first annual booster was due at the end of January 2020 but was missed, ideally it should be done before the end of April 2020.

NB: For indoor-only cats the risk assessment is different – vaccination of indoor-only cats is currently not justifiable, since they are not at great risk of contracting the vaccinable diseases. Once restrictions have been lifted, consult your vet to discuss if they can have a single booster vaccination or if they need a ‘re-start’ course – the possibility that they may need to re-start later on is not enough of a reason to vaccinate them during lockdown.

  1. If you are introducing new cats of any age into a house containing unvaccinated resident cat(s), or the resident cat(s)’ vaccinations have lapsed more than six months, the resident cat should receive at least one vaccination to boost its immunity against incoming viruses the newcomers may bring. If the resident cat’s last vaccination was over 3 years ago, a ‘re-start’ course of two vaccinations would be recommended.
  2. Rabies vaccination of a cat belonging to a person who is re-patriating with their cat

*these are recommendations based on risk assessment of the cat in question, but during the COVID-19 pandemic the risk to human health is of paramount importance and must be factored into the decision made by the vet in charge of the case. Your own veterinary practice may have reasons not to vaccinate even in these situations, depending on staff resources, availability of PPE and vaccinations, and the health status of the owner.

Scientific Stuff:

This information is based on recommendations from various experts and specialists in the fields of immunology and infectious cat diseases, as well as advice from vaccination companies. For further information see:

http://www.abcdcatsvets.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Tool_Vaccine-recommendations_Feb2020.pdf

https://wsava.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/WSAVA-Vaccination-Guidelines-2015.pdf

https://catvets.com/public/PDFs/PracticeGuidelines/VaccinationGLS-summary.pdf

The ‘grace periods’ mentioned above (e.g. six weeks between primary course vaccinations, and allowing three to six months after a due date for a booster vaccination) is exceptional advice during this pandemic, but is still classed as ‘off-label’ use of the vaccination. The normal datasheet advice should be followed once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

Q4: Can I catch COVID-19 from stroking my cat?

A4: Bottom line: It is unlikely, but not impossible. Observing normal hygiene measures are advised – wash your hands after touching your cat.

A bit more: Any surface that is touched by an infected person depositing virus on it is called a fomite. Therefore, there would be a very slim chance that if you cat goes outside and an infected person has stroked your cat, the virus could be transmitted to you on their fur. There is a much higher risk of you picking up the virus from, for example, supermarket trolley handles, door handles, parcels that are delivered etc.

Scientific Stuff:

  • This is the underlying reason why everyone is advised to wash their hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds – the virus is easily removed and destroyed by doing this.
  • SARSCoV2 is an ‘enveloped’ virus – meaning it has a sort of coat around it. Instead of providing protection however, having the coat makes it more vulnerable – the coat is destroyed easily with soap and disinfectants. Once the coat is gone the virus is no longer viable.
  • Pet fur is a porous surface and the virus survives for a shorter time on porous surfaces. The amount of virus also decreases rapidly over time.

Q5: Should I be shutting my cat indoors now?

A5: Bottom line: NO!

A bit more: Because the risk of cats picking up and transmitting the disease is really low, there is no good reason to shut your cat inside if it is used to going out. Doing so is likely to cause your cat adverse distress, and could result in clinical stress-related illnesses, such as cystitis, overgrooming; or behavioural problems caused by the frustration, such as house soiling, cat-to-cat or cat-to-human aggression, and destructive tendencies.

Q6: Should I wash my cat to remove any virus?

A6: Bottom line: This is not advisable or necessary.

A bit more: Regular hand washing after touching your cat is all that is advised. Unless your cat is used to being washed, most cats are very averse to having a bath. Trying to do so is likely to cause them a lot of stress and cause you harm from being scratched or bitten. You should also not use disinfectant wipes on your cat – these can contain cleaning agents such as benzalkonium chloride which can be harmful to cats if ingested.

Q7: Are vets open as usual during lockdown? (NB this is answered from a UK vet perspective, I am not in a position to speak on behalf of vets from other countries)

A7: Bottom line: – NO. During lockdown, it is most definitely not business as usual for vets but rest assured URGENT CASES/EMERGENCIES WILL BE TREATED

ALL citizens should be following the government’s advice on social distancing as much as possible; this includes veterinary staff.

A bit more:

  • Every practice will be different, so your first point of contact is to phone the practice number or check their website. Due to staff shortages, it may take some time to get through – please be patient.
  • All vets still have a duty of care to provide urgent treatment if animal welfare could be compromised. The duty of care may be delegated elsewhere.
  • Some practices have had to close some branches temporarily but will be upholding their duty of care by directing their clients to alternative practices/branches.
  • Many practices have had to split their team up, in order to prevent transmission of COVID-19 through the whole team should one person become infected. Many staff members have been furloughed. This means most practices are working on a skeleton staff.
  • Remote assessment by phone or video consultation is available and essential, in order to determine if your cat does need to be seen urgently. This is unlikely to be free of charge, as it still requires members of staff to be paid, and the valuable provision of veterinary advice.
  • Vets have temporarily been given permission to provide prescription-only medication when necessary, after remote consultation without physical examination, during the COVID-19 restrictions. It is likely this power will be removed when restrictions are lifted.
  • Problems deemed to be relatively minor after a phone/video consultation can often be handled without the need for face to face contact. For example:
  • advising dietary changes
  • recommending non-prescription products e.g. probiotic supplements for gastroenteritis
  • describing procedures the owner can do themselves – e.g. bathing a small wound
  • when necessary prescribing prescription-only medicines which can be either collected or delivered
  • making a plan to monitor and arrange a follow-up phone/video consultation
  • Our current veterinary guidance (to date 22 April 2020) is to consider physical examination of a pet if, after remote triage, there is an obvious immediate concern that cannot be dealt with remotely, or the vet feels that the health or welfare of the pet (or public health) could be compromised within a two-month timescale.
  • If the vet deems the pet must be examined, the practice should have a protocol for doing this but still observing social distancing. This will usually mean you must deposit your cat in its basket by the door and retreat; the staff will then collect your cat to take inside the practice. For home visiting vets, you must shut the cat in one room for the vet to go into, and retreat into a different room. The vet may need to communicate with you by phone to gather more information, and to explain their findings and plan of action to you. Written consent for procedures is unlikely to be possible, so you may have to give verbal consent witnessed by another member of staff.

It is your responsibility as a pet owner and a citizen to be honest with your vet about the condition of your pet. Under-estimating the severity of your pet’s problem could result in avoidable suffering; conversely, exaggerating the problem puts extra strain on your practice’s reduced capabilities, and ultimately increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission among people.

  • Combining all this with social distancing requirements means that all non-urgent work must be postponed.
  • This does not mean such procedures do not have value, once life is back to normal.
  • Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is currently of greater importance.
  • Routine vaccinations, weight clinics, post-operative checks, claw clipping, anal gland expression, grooming, 6-month health checks, routine neutering, behavioural visits, complementary therapies (laser, acupuncture, physiotherapy) are all important and greatly useful for the health and wellbeing of your pet, and when COVID-19 is a horror we see in the rear-view mirror, all pet owners are encouraged to actively partake of these valuable routine but non-urgent services.

No scientific stuff here: These measures are a combination of what is required of us by the government (social distancing, only travelling when absolutely necessary) and our duties as veterinary surgeons. For further information please see:

https://www.rcvs.org.uk/setting-standards/advice-and-guidance/coronavirus-covid-19/

https://www.bva.co.uk/coronavirus/coronavirus-advice-for-animal-owners/

Q8: Should I stockpile my cat’s food?

A8: Bottom line– NO. Pet food should be bought responsibly as should human food.

A bit more:

The longer-term fate of how food in general is supplied around the world is in the hands of governments and traders. The problem comes when people do stockpile. It has a domino effect – the more people seen to be stockpiling, the more other people do it, then there is a mismatch between supply and demand. Be responsible and buy only what you need for a few weeks at a time.

It would be wise to ensure you have enough cat food in to feed your cat(s) for at least 7 days if you live alone, or 14 days if you live with other people; this applies in particular if your cat is on a special prescription diet which, in the current circumstances, might take your vet practice longer to order. This is just in case you or someone in your home starts to show COVID-19 symptoms. If you live alone you must self-isolate for 7 days. If you live with another person who becomes unwell, you must self-isolate for 14 days.

See https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-advice/ for advice on self-isolation.

About the author:

Claire Zentveld., BSc, BVM&S, GPCertFelP, MANZCVS (Medicine of Cats), MRCVS

The main thing to say about myself is I LOVE CATS! I am a cat ‘owner’ first and a vet second (We don’t really ‘own’ them, perhaps I should say ‘cat servant’). I completely understand the emotional upset of seeing your beloved cat when it’s sick or in pain, and also the difficulties of giving medication to a cat.

I graduated from Edinburgh University in 1999, with all good intentions of eventually working in wildlife conservation. As happens, life had other ideas, and the further education in Wild Animal Health just didn’t happen! All for the best, as working in small animal practice allowed me to be around the species I’ve always loved the most!

I was very fortunate to have studied under some world-renowned feline specialists at The Dick Vet School – such as the esteemed Danielle Gunn-Moore and Severine Tasker. So even as a baby vet, my interest in feline medicine was triggered. Over the years I have gravitated more towards feline-orientated professional development, as well as forming an interest in ultrasonography. In 2013 I passed the exam for a General Practitioner Certificate in Feline Practice (GPCertFelP), and in 2018, I passed another exam for a highly regarded qualification in the Feline Medicine world – the Membership of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (MANZCVS) -Medicine of Cats. This is the equivalent of a Masters degree.

I have worked in companion animal practice for 21 years now, changing through permanent positions and locum work, and spent two years at a referral centre in Hampshire, as a registrar in internal medicine. In 2019 I founded my own practice – Vet2Cat – a feline-only home-visiting practice based in Portsmouth and covering much of South Hampshire. Seeing cats in their own environments is so rewarding from a vet’s point of view: they are so much more likely to be more relaxed and behave naturally. Also assessing its environment and social relations with other cats can help with understanding and tackling issues, and this enables us to advise you on how best to help your cat. The practice is in its infancy still, and not yet financially self-sufficient, so I also offer consultancy work to other practices.

When I’m not vetting, I enjoy pilates, singing in a community choir and a good walk and a chat with a friend.

I share my life with my husband, Hugo and our two amazing cats Toots and Mikey – sister and brother. They bring joy to my life every day.

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One thought on “COVID-19 and Cats – Facts and FAQs Part 2

  1. ajoobacats says:

    If the likelihood of catching illnesses we vaccinate against is so low risk in indoor cats, it’s a wonder we are obliged to vaccinate them at all. Although, I know vets have to earn a living, it seems rather too mercenary to expose cats to unnecessary vaccinations to do so.

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