The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that pet owners practice social distancing when it comes to animals after cats began testing positive for coronavirus, ABC News reports.
Since the coronavirus pandemic first emerged, it's been suspected, but not proved, that the virus can be transmitted between animals (that is, to each other) as well as back and forth between humans and pets. Cats are particularly susceptible to being carriers of the virus, as Nature reported in early April, while the virus seems to completely spare dogs.
Now, however, two cases out of New York have changed the thinking about the risk of household pets spreading the virus to humans and/or to each other.
Specifically, two cats in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus. The two animals experienced mild respiratory symptoms and are expected to make a full recovery.
However, that the animals contracted the virus and got sick with it drives home the possibility, however theoretical, that the animals could have gotten it from humans, or from other animals, and might possibly give it to other humans.
Veterinary specialist Dr. Melissa Salgado says that, in light of this new information, it's time to practice social distancing around pets, too.
"Social distancing applies to your pets too. They are at risk of developing this disease so it's best to err on the side of caution," she said.
For families with cats, that means that the animal should be kept inside. If a pet cat becomes sick, his or her human family should resist the urge to cuddle and snuggle with the animal, and instead, leave it alone as much as possible to allow it to recover.
While the jury is still out on whether dogs can get or transmit the virus, it's best to keep dogs on a leash. When walking them, make sure they stay at least six feet from strangers and other dogs. Visits to the dog park should be off the table until further notice.
Meanwhile, Dr. Salgado says that routine testing of cats for the coronavirus isn't likely at this time, especially considering that the animals must endure quite a bit more than humans when being tested for the virus.
"Testing requires swabs of the nose, of the mouth, and the conjunctiva of the eyes, as well as fecal testing. And there's so many illnesses in pets that aren't coronavirus that we aren't advocating for widespread testing," Salgado says.