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Animal Doctor: Coronavirus pandemic puts cats at risk

Animal Doctor: Coronavirus pandemic puts cats at risk


Dear Readers: Chinese scientists investigated the susceptibility of ferrets and other species that have close contact with humans to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They found in laboratory exposure tests that SARS-CoV-2 replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks, but ferrets and cats are susceptible to infection. Cats are susceptible to airborne infection and can infect each other, with extensive lung damage evident in young cats. Ferrets develop milder upper respiratory infections, from which they are likely to recover. (Jianzhong Shi et al, “Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs and other domesticated animals to SARS-coronavirus-2,” Science, April 8, 2020)

These findings mean that domestic cats should be quarantined and tested if exposed to infected people. Precautions should be taken at this time, especially in animal shelters, when cats develop early signs of any sickness involving the upper respiratory system.

Such legitimate concerns about COVID-19 in domestic cats are yet another reason to keep cats indoors, and to prohibit them from going outdoors except into an enclosed, safe area such as a “catio.” This will help reduce the chances of this highly infectious virus from spreading in local, free-roaming domestic cat populations. Such populations could become a reservoir of infection, and cats could then bring the infection back into people’s homes. Wild felines (bobcat, lynx and panther/cougar), and possibly foxes, may also be at risk.

It has not yet been determined if cats can transmit COVID-19 to humans, but fearing that possibility, some people may start killing free-roaming cats — like some people in Peru, who have been reported to be slaughtering bats.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s standing policy is that pet cats be kept indoors. Their policy states that “keeping owned cats confined, such as housing them in an enriched indoor environment or in an outdoor enclosure, or exercising leash-acclimated cats, can minimize the risks to the cats, wildlife, humans and the environment.” On April 8, the British Veterinary Association urged people who are self-isolating or have COVID-19 symptoms to keep their cats indoors. According to the BVA, it is possible that outdoor cats may carry the virus on their fur, just as the virus can live on other surfaces. But in my opinion, people who are asymptomatic could infect their cats, so I urge all cat owners to keep their cats indoors during this global pandemic.

For people who want to transition their outdoor cats to indoors, the American Bird Conservancy offers a range of helpful solutions on its website ( that were developed over years of work with veterinarians and pet owners.

Cats are sold and killed for food in Chinese markets, a practice that should be prohibited in view of these findings. The Chinese government’s statement in early April prohibiting the same fate for dogs, because they are “companion animals,” is a face-saving public relations action. A similar prohibition should be applied to cats, and to all live animals, wild and domesticated, in these widespread markets. Some cultural norms must change for the common good.

Dear Dr. Fox: I looked at your “Homemade Natural Food for Dogs” recipe, but was confused to find the ingredients of “whole-grain brown rice, barley, quinoa, rolled oats and rice pasta” included. I keep reading about how grains are bad for dogs.

I have been feeding our dogs — a greyhound and a German shepherd — non-grain foods from Open Farm (on Susan Thixton’s list of good dog food companies), along with some of their supplements such as bone broth and stews, but now the company has come out with a dry food containing “ancient grains.” They also came out with a “gently cooked” food that looks similar to your recipe that does not contain any grains. Please help explain this to me. — J.M., Hobe Sound, Florida

Dear J.M.: I am glad that you asked this question, which has come up in earlier columns but is worth repeating. Some grains in the canine diet are good for dogs, and their absence is linked with heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy). For details, see the article on my website ( entitled “Pet Food and Feeding Issues: Soy Dogs and Corn Cats — Myth and Reality.” A lot of poor-quality grains in dogs’ diets, typically in cheap kibble, can contribute to obesity, inflammatory diseases and pancreatic enzyme insufficiency.

Notice you will not find corn in my recipe. Corn in cat and dog food and can cause various health problems, from seizures to inflammatory bowel disease. Corn categorically has no place in a cat’s diet; its inclusion is unethical and grossly irresponsible. According to Susan Thixton, (, citing a recently released agricultural study: “Corn is the most commonly used pet food ingredient — almost 1 million more tons of corn is included in cat and dog foods than any other ingredient. In July 2019, 98% of corn samples tested in the U.S. were ‘positive for at least one mycotoxin,’ and ‘74% of samples have more than one mycotoxin.’ Even low levels of mycotoxins in pet food can result in serious illness.”

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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