Yes, cats can get COVID-19, but they're unlikely to become seriously ill (2022)

  • Cats who contract COVID-19 may cough or sneeze, run a fever, and have nasal or eye discharge.
  • If you have the virus, wearing a mask and gloves can help you avoid transmitting it to your cat.
  • Cats usually recover in a few days with supportive care, and they won’t transmit the virus to you.

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the United States, you might worry about transmitting COVID-19 not just to loved ones, but also to your beloved pets. You may have heard about lions and tigers in the Bronx zoo contracting COVID-19 from people and wonder if your own, tinier cat is at risk.

Cats generally don't develop severe illness from the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus, or COVID-19. However, they do appear to be more susceptible to catching it than other pets.

Read on to learn how to tell if your cat has COVID-19 and what to do if your furry friend becomes ill.

Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in cats

Most COVID-19 cases in cats are mild or asymptomatic. Much like humans, cats often develop symptoms in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), potential signs of COVID-19 in cats include:

  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever (over 102.5 F)
  • Lack of energy
  • Runny nose
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Diarrhea or vomiting

Experimental research on cats infected with COVID-19 found that symptoms peaked four days after infection.

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How do cats contract COVID-19?

Cats catch COVID-19 the same way humans do: By getting virus particles in their mouth or nose.

"Transmission in felines, as with people, is primarily airborne, although contaminated food and water bowls, etc. can also be a source," says Carol Osborne, DVM, integrative veterinarian at Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic.

Cats can contract the disease from other cats, but most often they get it from humans. Cat owners love to express physical affection to their pets, but this close contact can make it easy for viral particles to pass from one host to another.

"This is especially an issue if you kiss, hug, or let your cat lick you," says Chyrle Bonk, DVM, veterinarian at Hepper.

Can cats transmit COVID-19?

Cats can spread the disease to other household felines. That said, in experiments of cat-to-cat transmission, infected cats usually developed asymptomatic infections. In a multi-cat household, you can slow transmission by isolating the infected cat.

No evidence suggests cats can transmit COVID-19 to dogs. However, cats may be able to transmit the disease to other species of pets, such as hamsters or ferrets. Research suggests feral cats played a role in the spread of COVID-19 between two separate mink farms, suggesting interspecies transmission is possible.

Currently there are no records of humans contracting the virus from cats. It's very unlikely cats could easily transmit the virus to humans, for two reasons:

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  • A brief shedding period: When cats contract the virus, they only shed particles for a short time (around 5 days or less).
  • Reinfection rate: Most infected cats develop a robust antibody response, which protects them from getting infected a second time.

These factors mean that there is a very short, temporary time in which a cat is infectious. Unless a cat lives in an unusually crowded setting, widespread transmission is unlikely.

Can feline coronavirus cause COVID-19?

SARS-CoV-2 is one of many coronaviruses that can infect mammals. It's not the same as feline coronavirus, a common virus in cats that typically causes mild diarrhea.

"COVID-19 is caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This new virus is a betacoronavirus and is completely unrelated to feline coronavirus, which is an alphacoronavirus," says Jonathan Roberts, veterinarian and consultant for Excited Cats. In other words, the virus that causes COVID-19 is genetically quite different from feline coronavirus.

An infection of feline coronavirus cannot cause COVID-19. If it spreads within a population of cats, however, there is a chance it could mutate and cause a rare disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

What about other pets?

In February 2021, global tallies showed 115 domestic cats had contracted COVID-19, compared to 81 dogs and one pet ferret. Since pets aren't widely tested, this tally is likely an undercount. But the low numbers imply that pets rarely contract COVID-19 from their owners.

A 2020 study suggests cats are more susceptible to developing COVID-19 than dogs. Researchers examined 603 dogs and 316 cats from around Italy. They found 3.3% of dogs and 5.8% of cats had measurable antibody levels. Cats developed a higher level of antibodies than dogs, which means their immune systems may react more strongly to the virus. That said, they're still far less likely to become sick than humans.

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What to do if you think your cat could have COVID-19

If your cat shows signs of COVID-19, contact your veterinarian for guidance. Many veterinary clinics offer telemedicine consultations when necessary. Video examinations can be especially helpful if you yourself are quarantining.

A veterinarian can usually screen your cat's symptoms without needing a COVID-19 test for confirmation. Dogs and cats typically aren't tested for COVID-19 unless there is a risk of widespread animal infection, such as an outbreak at an animal shelter. If a test is necessary, your veterinarian will contact state officials for further steps.

When caring for a sick cat, the CDC recommends you:

  • DO isolate your cat to one room of the house (much like you'd do when caring for a sick human).
  • DO keep a log of their symptoms and tell your veterinarian about changes in their condition.
  • DO NOT let your sick cat outside, even if it is normally an outside cat.
  • DO NOT put a mask on your cat. Doing so could cause breathing difficulties.
  • DO NOT try to clean your cat's fur with hydrogen peroxide, hand sanitizer, or other chemical cleaning agents. Your veterinarian can offer more guidance on bathing your cat, if needed.

Your pet can likely resume their normal routine after they've gone at least three days without symptoms.

To date, few cats have died from COVID-19. Most cats can return to good health "with proper supportive care, fluids, and good nutrition," says Osborne.

Protecting your cat if you have COVID-19

If you have COVID-19, one of the most effective ways to avoid infecting your cat is to keep your distance, as difficult as that may feel.

"If possible, have someone else take care of your cat until you are free from symptoms," says Bonk. Doing so will allow you to rest and your cat to get quality care.

If you cannot arrange pet care, you still have options for lowering the risk of transmission. "To protect your feline, be sure to practice good hygiene," says Osborne, who recommends the following:

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  • Wearing a mask when around your cat
  • Washing your hands thoroughly before and after touching your cat
  • Securing trash bins so your cat can't reach used tissues or food containers
  • Sanitizing your cat's bowls, bedding, and toys.
  • Wearing gloves and mask when cleaning out litter boxes

These simple precautions can go a long way toward helping keep your cat from contracting COVID-19.

Insider's takeaway

There's no evidence to suggest you can contract COVID-19 from your cat — but your pet can contract the virus from you.

If you're sick, isolate yourself if you can. If you can't isolate from your cat, wear a mask and gloves around your pet when providing care. These safety precautions can help lower their chances of contracting COVID-19.

If you think your cat has COVID-19, try not to panic. Most cats only develop mild symptoms, so they likely aren't in danger. Your veterinarian can offer more guidance on assessing your cat's symptoms and caring for them at home.

Emily Swaim

Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider, and find Emily on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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FAQs

Who are at higher risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19? ›

Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Can COVID-19 be transmitted through food? ›

There is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed at temperatures similar to that of other known viruses and bacteria found in food.

How long does the virus that causes COVID-19 last on surfaces? ›

Recent research evaluated the survival of the COVID-19 virus on different surfaces and reported that the virus can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to four hours on copper, and up to 24 hours on cardboard.

Where did COVID-19 origin? ›

The first known infections from SARS‑CoV‑2 were discovered in Wuhan, China.[17] The original source of viral transmission to humans remains unclear, as does whether the virus became pathogenic before or after the spillover event.[19][75][9] Because many of the early infectees were workers at the Huanan Seafood Market,[76][77] it has been suggested that the virus might have originated from the market.[9][78] However, other research indicates that visitors may have introduced the virus to the market, which then facilitated rapid expansion of the infections.

Do smokers suffer from worse COVID-19 symptoms? ›

Early research indicates that, compared to non-smokers, having a history of smoking may substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for COVID-19 patients, including being admitted to intensive care, requiring mechanical ventilation and suffering severe health consequences.

Are smokers more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19? ›

Tobacco smoking is a known risk factor for many respiratory infections and increases the severity of respiratory diseases. A review of studies by public health experts convened by WHO on 29 April 2020 found that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to non-smokers.

Can the coronavirus disease be transmitted through the consumption of cooked foods, including animal products? ›

There is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed at temperatures similar to that of other known viruses and bacteria found in food.

Can the coronavirus disease be transmitted through water? ›

Drinking water is not transmitting COVID-19. And, if you swim in a swimming pool or in a pond, you cannot get COVID-19 through water. But what can happen, if you go to a swimming pool, which is crowded and if you are close to other the people and if someone is infected, then you can be of course affected.

How does COVID-19 spread? ›

The virus primarily spreads between people through close contact and via aerosols and respiratory droplets that are exhaled when talking, breathing, or otherwise exhaling, as well as those produced from coughs or sneezes.

What surfaces should be cleaned during the COVID-19 pandemic? ›

High-touch surfaces in these non-health care settings should be identified for priority disinfection such as door and window handles, kitchen and food preparation areas, counter tops, bathroom surfaces, toilets and taps, touchscreen personal devices, personal computer keyboards, and work surfaces.

Where was COVID-19 first discovered? ›

The first known infections from SARS-CoV-2 were discovered in Wuhan, China. The original source of viral transmission to humans remains unclear, as does whether the virus became pathogenic before or after the spillover event.

When was COVID-19 first reported? ›

On this website you can find information and guidance from WHO regarding the current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

How could smoking affect COVID-19? ›

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases.

What is the difference between people who have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic COVID-19? ›

Both terms refer to people who do not have symptoms. The difference is that ‘asymptomatic’ refers to people who are infected but never develop any symptoms, while ‘pre-symptomatic’ refers to infected people who have not yet developed symptoms but go on to develop symptoms later.

What are the known coronaviruses that can infect people? ›

Human coronaviruses are capable of causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS, fatality rate ~34%). SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh known coronavirus to infect people, after 229E, NL63, OC43, HKU1, MERS-CoV, and the original SARS-CoV.

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