What to do when the cat gets corona?

Pets in the pandemic What to do if the cat gets Corona?

Open your mouth, tongue out - ready for the corona swab! Yes, even animals are asked to test from time to time. But if it's a predator, it can't be done without anesthesia, as the head of Stuttgart Zoo knows. (Symbol image) Photo: Suomi/Pixabay

The coronavirus has already been detected in big cats in zoos. According to research, ferrets are also particularly susceptible to the disease. And in Hong Kong, thousands of hamsters are being euthanized right now. What role do animals play in the pandemic?? Do zoos and pet owners need to worry?

Oberndorf – In the fight against the virus animals have so far played a subordinate role. This does not mean, however, that they are safe from Corona. Like the home page of the Ministry of Rural Affairs Baden-Wurttemberg According to the latest research, the pathogen is said to have been transmitted from infected humans to certain pets in individual cases. "Positive cats, some of which showed symptoms of illness, have been reported from various countries", explains press speaker Jonas Esterl in the name of the ministry on inquiry. "The cats were staying in households with sick people and were probably infected by these people." Scientific studies have also discovered a susceptibility to the pathogen in ferrets, the spokesman added. The animals could also infect their conspecifics.

Ferrets are not the classic pets in Central Europe, but the state ministry recommends cat owners who have the coronavirus not to allow their cats to go outside while they themselves are also in quarantine. The cats should not be accommodated besides together with strange cats, for example in a cat pension. If the animal of a corona positive person develops symptoms, it should also be kept isolated, shares Esterl.

In no case do the self-test with the cat!

"If a pet tests positive for Corona, this is no reason to euthanize the animal", the spokesman continues. "Pets such as dogs and cats can and should remain in the household. However, general hygiene rules such as washing hands before and after contact with the animals and avoiding close contact with them should be strictly observed." The owner should therefore not allow himself to be licked in the face and not take the animal to bed with him. It is also recommended that the infected owner wears a mouth guard to protect the animals.

But what should a pet owner do if he suspects that his pet has Corona?? Esterl also has an answer for this: "A PCR test is also possible for pets. PCR testing of pets is offered in Baden-Wurttemberg by the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Offices in Freiburg, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart and the Veterinary Investigation Office Diagnostic Center in Aulendorf. In addition, private laboratories offer the examination." If a pet owner who is themselves quarantined or Corona positive notices symptoms in their pet that suggest infection, they should contact their veterinarian by phone. In pets, Covid 19 infection is asymptomatic in most cases. In individual cases, however, there may be symptoms of disease that resemble a cold.

Special PCR tests for animals

And before someone gets the idea to test his cat for the virus with a lollipop test: this is not advisable. Not only, because one would risk to lose an eye there. The spokesperson warns: "The use of diagnostic agents not approved for animals to detect infection in animals is not permitted under the Animal Health Act." Only particularly sensitive and highly specific PCR tests developed by the Friedrich-Loffler-Institut are used in animals in the state veterinary investigation facilities and in private veterinary laboratories. "In addition, the test kits approved for humans are adapted to the human anatomy, which is why taking samples from pets could lead to injuries and violent defensive movements in these animals." By the way, in animals the test result of the test kits approved for the examination in humans would not be meaningful, because they have a different composition of the nasal mucosa. This would falsify the test result and, in addition, the result would most likely be falsely negative in the case of an infection, because the viral load is lower in animals.

By the way, since July 2020, Corona infections are also reportable in animals. These reports are entered in the Animal Disease Notification System (TSN), a nationwide reporting registry, Esterl informs us. "The obligation to report is a duty to inform about the evidence of infection in an animal. The laboratory or veterinarian must report positive results to the veterinary office. Veterinarians must also report positively tested animals. The veterinary office reports the case to the Animal Disease Notification System (TSN). It is therefore purely a matter of information." From the obligation to report itself no control measures result. However, the veterinary office can, for example, order a quarantine.

Not all corona is the same

The patients of veterinarian Frank Merkt from Oberndorf have so far been spared from Covid-19. If also the one or other cat is already struck with Corona. But this does not mean a reason for panic. In cats this was not uncommon long before the outbreak of the pandemic. "With Corona it is like with the surname Muller", illustrates the doctor. "There are families everywhere. And yet the families are different." The coronavirus that cats often have belongs to the same viral strain as SARS-CoV-2, but it causes different symptoms and is not transmissible to humans. "The cats get diarrhea from it. It can also happen that the virus mutates in the cat if it carries it around for a longer time. And then it can become something worse." What then develops is a "Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). Peritonitis is the medical term for inflammation of the peritoneum. This disease always ends fatally for the cat. "There was also a vaccination against it, but it didn’t really help", Merkt remembers.

As far as the corona virus is concerned, with which humans are currently struggling worldwide, animals are only very rarely affected. "If you know, that one has Corona and then smooches his cat and afterwards makes a test with it, it is of course positive. But those who are ill and deal with their animals in a completely normal way have little to worry about", the veterinarian gives the all-clear. In his practice, there has not been a single case in the past two years.

Animal shelters spared – at least the residents

Gunther Hermus, chairman of the animal protection association Rottweil, Also does not see infections in the animal as a problem. In the Rottweiler animal shelter live at present about seven dogs, 25 cats and five rabbits. All of them are corona free. "We were even once in the apartment of a corona sick person to get animals out of there. Both we and the animals have all remained healthy", he tells.

Nadine Vogel, district zoo manager of the Black Forest-Baar-County, also considers an infection in the animal to be very unlikely. "I don’t know how one should determine that either. We wouldn’t have the financial resources to test all animals regularly for corona.", she says. About 50 animals are currently living in the Donaueschingen Animal shelter. "At the beginning of the pandemic, fears were raised that the animals might also be drivers of the pandemic. People have started abandoning their pets in some countries. But in the meantime it is clear that there is little reason to panic."

PCR smear in the carnivore?

Who is currently visiting Wilhelma in Stuttgart might be puzzled when he sees large signs in the open air at some points along the way indicating that masks are compulsory. Why just there? The paths are not narrower at these points, the crowding of visitors is not greater than elsewhere. The answer is simple: The masks are there primarily to protect the animals. At these places the visitor comes namely close to the predator enclosures.

Zoo director Thomas Kolpin says: "We have not yet had a case of corona in an animal, but it has happened in other zoos, for example in America in Illinois and Nebraska. Predators or monkeys have been infected by their keepers," she says. In a zoo in New York tigers and lions had the virus. And in Belgium, even hippos got Corona in December", says Kolpin. Primates and predators – especially snow leopards – have been shown to be particularly susceptible to the disease. In the Wilhelma that is a few hundred endangered animals. He knows of cases in other zoos where even animals died of the virus. Wilhelma does everything to prevent this from happening in its own zoo. Not only are masks compulsory for visitors in the vicinity of the endangered animals. "The employees also have to wear masks around the animals and regularly show negative coronatests", explains the zoo keeper.

But what if the suspicion should arise that an animal has corona?? Wilhelma is prepared? "Fortunately, we have not even had a suspicion so far", Kolpin says. And if it should ever arise, a corona test is carried out. Yes, also with the carnivore. "When animals come from other zoos or we give them away, they get a PCR test. Most of the time they get anesthesia anyway because they need to be examined and also tested for other diseases before they can change the place." The PCR test works exactly like in humans.

The animal factor is so far little represented in the thought models for the spread of the coronavirus, Kolpin points out. In the zoo the contact between animal and humans can be easily reduced. "It is different in agriculture or animals living in cities. Mice and rats for example." The fact that the transmission of the virus to many animal species has not yet been proven does not mean that they cannot get it. "And then maybe there is also the possibility that it will mutate further in animals. And if a transfer from humans to animals is possible, it also works the other way around. I see a risk in that."

Even the deer can get it

"The Friedrich Loeffler Institute has conducted extensive studies on the susceptibility of animals to SARS-CoV-2", notes the spokesman for the Ministry of Rural Affairs. "There is no evidence yet that farm animals common in our country play a role in the spread or could be relevant as a source of infection for humans. Studies show that neither pigs nor chickens, ducks and turkeys can be infected with SARS-CoV-2." Cattle have a low susceptibility to the virus and can not pass it on.

Guinea pigs could not be infected with the virus. Other animal species are currently being studied for susceptibility. Of wildlife, the North American white-tailed deer is known to be susceptible, he said.

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