Pet cats should be kept inside if they live in a household where someone is suffering with the new coronavirus, veterinary scientists have said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Daniella Dos Santos, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said cat owners who were self-isolating or displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should stop their pets leaving the house where possible.
"There have been a tiny number of cases of COVID-19 in animals and in all cases, it is likely that the transmission was human to animal," she said. "There is no evidence that pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners. From the small number of cases it appears that dogs do not show symptoms, but cats can show clinical signs of the disease."
Dos Santos added that it was not advisable for all cats to be kept inside, however, noting that some cats have to be let outside due to stress-related or medical reasons.
According to the BVA, cats can also act as fomites — meaning the virus can linger on their fur and be transmitted through touch in the same way it can be picked up from surfaces like tables and doorknobs.
The BVA advises pet owners to practice good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus, but has noted that there is no evidence the coronavirus can be passed from animals to humans.
Meanwhile, the Australian Veterinary Association also advised cat owners on Saturday to keep pets within households affected by COVID-19 if they had been exposed to a human case.
Other steps they advised cat owners to take included minimizing contact with their pets and maintaining good hand hygiene before and after handling a cat or its food and water bowls.
Last week, the Bronx Zoo confirmed that a tiger had tested positive for COVID-19, with the zoo saying it believed the animal caught the infection from an employee. Meanwhile, a pet cat in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus in March after being in contact with a coronavirus patient. However, the Hong Kong government said in a statement that there was "no evidence pet animals can be a source of COVID-19" in human cases.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there is "little to no evidence" that cats become ill if infected with the new coronavirus, and "no evidence that those that may be naturally infected spread (the virus) to other pets or people."
"Out of an abundance of caution and until more is known about this virus, if you are ill with COVID-19 you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people," the AVMA advises.