The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is likely here to stay, and we must accept it. However, there are a lot of rumors regarding cats and the SARS-CoV-2 virus floating around, so we want to keep you well informed.
In a very unusual situation, a suspected (and perhaps first documented) case of cat-to-human transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this case, two humans with COVID-19 were taken to the hospital in Thailand and their cat rode in the ambulance with them. The cat was then transferred to the local university animal hospital where she was examined and found to be clinically normal.
Unfortunately, the cat sneezed into the face of one of her examining veterinarians. The veterinarian was wearing an N95 respirator mask, but did not have on eye goggles or a face shield. The cat never showed signs of illness, but three days later, the veterinarian became ill. She was admitted to the same hospital as the owners of the cat. Genetic testing showed that the owners, the cat, and the veterinarian had been infected by identical SARS-CoV2 viral strains.
Since the veterinarian had never met the owners nor the cat prior to this event, and given the timing of the individual infections in this group, it is most likely that the cat was infected by her family and then transferred it to the veterinarian with the sneeze.
What this tells us: While exceedingly rare (likely due, in part, to the short amount of time that infected cats shed SARS-CoV-2 virus), infected cats may serve as sources of SARS-CoV-2 infection for people that have close contact with them. Owners should refrain from allowing cats to lick and/or sneeze in their faces. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, have someone else take care of your cats if you can. Finally, if you suspect you are handling or caring for a cat with COVID-19, consider using eye protection or a face shield in addition to your mask to protect against SARS-CoV-2 spread, and wash your hands carefully after interacting with them (this is likely a good idea when interacting with all pets).