Chinese scientists have come to a stunning conclusion: domestic cats can be carriers of the coronavirus. This finding is supported by research conducted by the electronic scientific library bioRxiv. According to the study the virus is transmitted from cats by airborne droplets. Another proof that pets can infect a human with the coronavirus is a four year old Malay tiger in the New York Zoo, who was confirmed with coronavirus.
Horror stories of how pets can become carriers of a new coronavirus strain and pass it to humans have been actively circulated throughout the web during the last several weeks. Adding to the confusion was Ukraine’s Health Ministry which launched information banners featuring dogs in several Ukrainian cities claiming that in order to avoid infection with the coronavirus, it was necessary to avoid contact with animals. Ukrainian animal protections organizations immediately responded to the fake claims through campaigns on social media with masses of users uploading photos of their four legged friends with the I am not a virus hashtag in protest. Later Ukraine’s Health Ministry began to remove the provocative banners from Ukrainian streets claiming the posters had been agreed on by the previous Health ministry team.
No sooner had this scandal somewhat subsided, than a new one erupted. Ukrainian and Russian media began circulating stories claiming house cats were dangerous to humans because Chinese scientists found the coronavirus among 15% of house and street cats according to an abstract published on the bioRxiv web site. No one ever stopped to note that the data presented had not been reviewed by anyone in the scientific community, something that is clearly stated on the bioRxiv site, a site that preprints scientific studies and clearly states that all published materials are simply preliminary reports that have not been peer reviewed and should not be regarded as conclusive or reported in the media as conclusive information.
A New York Post story about a Malayan tiger from New York’s Bronx Zoo who was infected with the coronavirus simply threw more oil on the disinformation fire. This case however does not prove that a human can be infected by a pet, quite the opposite; it was a human who transmitted the virus to a pet. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that currently a small number of pets, including dogs and cats were infected with COVID-19 after close contact with people and emphasizes that to date there is no evidence that pets can spread the virus to humans.
The World Health Organization emphasizes it is too early to talk about cats being intermediate hosts for COVID-19 transmission and calls on pet owners not to panic and give up their pets. There have been instances in Ukraine where people have believed in fakes claiming pets transmit the coronavirus and have subsequently chucked those animals out onto the street.
To guard oneself against the coronavirus it is important to adhere to medical recommendations and practice social distancing while walking your pets outside, wash the pets’ paws and toys, including food bowls and beds.