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Coronavirus UK: Pet cat is first animal to be infected

A pet cat has become the first animal in the UK to be diagnosed with Covid-19, it was revealed today. 

Officials in believe the cat — which wasn’t identified but lived in England — caught the coronavirus from its owners and ‘not the other way round’.  

Downing Street said the feline suffered from nasal discharge and some shortness of breath, a symptom that also strikes humans.

Both the cat and its owners have made a full recovery and there was no transmission of the virus to other animals or people in the household, health bosses said. 

Experts have today warned Britons with the virus to avoid cuddling their pets or keep them indoors to cut the risk of spreading germs. 

It is not the first time an animal has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 in humans.  

The first dog in the world to catch coronavirus died after it was declared disease-free and returned home to its owner in Hong Kong.

The 17-year-old Pomeranian, whose owner caught Covid-19, had been quarantined at a government facility but returned home over the weekend.  

The cat was diagnosed with the virus after being tested by scientists at Glasgow University, who screened hundreds of samples from felines.

The diagnosis was confirmed by the Animal and Plant Health Agency laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, last Wednesday. 

The Prime Minister’s office said this afternoon that the cat was referred by a private vet who the owners had taken their pet to see. 

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said: ‘Its symptoms were a respiratory infection with a nasal discharge and some shortness of breath.’  

Health officials said there is no evidence to suggest that the animal was involved in transmission of the disease to its owners.

And they added that there is also no proof that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the virus to people.

The advice from Public Health England is for people to wash their hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals. 

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: ‘Tests have confirmed that the virus responsible for Covid-19 has been detected in a pet cat in England.

‘This is a very rare event with infected animals detected to date only showing mild clinical signs and recovering within in a few days.

‘There is no evidence to suggest that pets directly transmit the virus to humans. We will continue to monitor this situation closely and will update our guidance to pet owners should the situation change.’

Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: ‘The pet cat was initially diagnosed by a private vet with feline herpes virus, a common cat respiratory infection, but the sample was also tested for SARS-CoV-2 as part of a research programme. 

‘Follow-up samples tested at the APHA laboratory in Weybridge confirmed the cat was also co-infected with SARS-CoV-2 which is the virus known to cause Covid-19 in humans.’  

The case has been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health.  

Professor Jonathan Ball, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘We know domestic animals like cats and dogs can be infected with the coronavirus, but the evidence suggests that the animals don’t get sick. 

‘They produce very low levels of virus, which is why we don’t think they can transmit the virus to humans. 

‘The best thing you can do to protect your pets, is to avoid close contact if you are, or think you might be, infected with the virus.’

Although there is no evidence so far that a human can catch the coronavirus from an infected pet, scientists have previously warned pets can carry the coronavirus on their fur, which risks spreading the disease from person to person.

An official report by the UK’s top vet said: ‘Close contact such as cuddling, grooming, feeding and allowing animals to share food could all allow the transfer of virus.’

The case further highlights the importance of washing hands regularly during the pandemic. 

Experts said today that people with Covid-19 should keep their pets indoors to avoid their pat carrying viral particles round the neighbourhood.  

Daniella Dos Santos, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: ‘Our advice to pet owners who have Covid-19 or who are self-isolating with symptoms remains to restrict contact with their pets as a precautionary measure and to practise good hygiene, including regular handwashing.

‘We also recommend that owners who are confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19 should keep their cat indoors if possible, but only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors. Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.’ 

Pankaj KC, World Animal Protection head of programmes for animals in communities, said: ‘Pet owners with Covid-19 should avoid contact with your pet where possible and have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. 

‘If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a face mask.

‘If your animal does become sick go to the vets as normal.’ 

A team of scientists at the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) are screening hundreds of samples from cats in Britain for Covid-19.

They have now completed a full genome sequencing of the virus found in the infected cat from England. 

Professor Margaret Hosie, who works on the project, said: ‘There have been sporadic reports of cats from Covid-19 households in Hong Kong, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the US that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and were presumed to be infected from their owners, but this is the first report of an infected cat in the UK.’   

The first dog in the world to catch coronavirus in Hong Kong, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, died on March 16. 

It was declared disease-free and returned home to its owner, a 60-year-old woman who was hospitalised with Covid-19 the month prior, after being quarantined at a government facility.

The dog was never autopsied, and so the exact cause of death was not determined. 

The first confirmed case of a dog contracting the virus in the US was a German Shepherd in New York. It tested positive for the coronavirus in June, the US Department of Agriculture announced.

A cat from Belgium also tested positive for the virus in the early days of the pandemic, showing symptoms of the virus one week after the owner — who also tested positive — returned from Italy. 

Professor William Weir, of CVR, who helped diagnose the British cat, said: ‘At present, there is no evidence that cats, dogs or other domestic animals play any role in the epidemiology of human infections with SARS-CoV-2.’ 

He said the factors that govern why one species is susceptible to the Covid-19 virus while others are more resistant are currently unknown. 

Cats, ferrets and hamsters have been shown to be susceptible to the virus, whereas ducks, chickens and pigs appear not to be. 

‘Furthermore, the significance of SARS-CoV-2 as a feline or canine pathogen is unknown as cats and dogs with reported infections usually recover and there has been no evidence of transmission occurring between cats or dogs in the field,’ Professor Weird said.

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