The Food and Drug Administration has issued recommendations for pet owners during the coronavirus pandemic, encouraging social distancing practices for cats and dogs.
An FDA fact sheet from April 30 indicates that pets should not interact with people or other animals outside the immediate household. Cats should be kept indoors when possible, and dogs should be kept on a leash that can maintain at least six feet distance from other humans and animals.
The agency also recommended dog owners avoid dog parks or other public places “where a large number of people and dogs gather.”
While the USDA oversees livestock, the FDA is responsible for monitoring pet food and medications.
The first reported case of an animal being infected with the coronavirus was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo. Since then, four more tigers and three lions at the zoo have tested positive.
In addition to a pet cat in Hong Kong and one in Belgium, two house cats in different parts of New York state were diagnosed with the virus after experiencing mild respiratory illness. One was in a household where no human tested positive for COVID-19.
Three dogs have tested positive, as well, but a small study cited by the FDA suggests that canines are not as likely to become infected with the virus as cats.
Currently, there are no reported cases of an animal infecting a human with the coronavirus.
“Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of pets spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 in people is considered to be low,” the FDA said in a statement.
“At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”
The call to keep cats indoors, Cornell Feline Health Centre director Bruce Kornreich told Business Insider, is to keep them from getting sick or infecting other felines.
“The most important thing to understand is that this virus is primarily human-spread,” Kornreich said. “Cats are susceptible and generally all cats have recovered.”
Ferrets and certain breeds of hamsters have also proven susceptible to infection in a lab setting, according to the FDA, while pigs, chickens, and ducks did not become infected or spread the infection.
Annette O’Connor, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University’s college of veterinary medicine, said cats are the main concern because they interact with other animals more often.
“We don’t know where cats go,” when they’re allowed outside, O’Connor told Business Insider.
“Maybe they go to the next-door neighbour, and the next-door neighbour is COVID-19 positive. So it’s a very precautionary take,” she added. “We know there can be cat-to-cat transmission, so we would like to avoid that.”
Kornreich says pet felines should be kept indoors anyway, “because they’re less likely to be exposed to diseases, eaten by predators, or hit by cars.”
Cats that have contracted the coronavirus experienced similar symptoms as humans, Kornreich said, including fever, cough, breathing trouble, nasal discharge, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
The FDA is not calling for testing pets for the virus but if your cat or dog shows symptoms, Kornreich recommends contacting a veterinarian, who should be informed if someone in the household has COVID-19, or if the pet may have been exposed.
Recent CDC guidelines indicate people with COVID-19 should restrict their interaction with animals. If the person is symptomatic, the CDC recommends they “avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sleeping in the same location, and sharing food or bedding.”
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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