Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Big Cats, Little Cats, and the Coronavirus

Lionesses having a nap at the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Lionesses having a nap at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Early on, the coronavirus that came to be called COVID-19 was speculated to be zoonotic, meaning it originated in an animal but could then infect humans. Could it also be spread from humans to animals by reverse zoonosis? And then back to humans?

In the past few weeks we’ve heard about two dogs and a cat who tested positive for the virus, and then six big cats in the Bronx zoo, all of whom developed symptoms, one of whom tested positive. Do we look at our pets in fear? Can they give it back to us? Are our cats a danger to us?

Right now, all situations indicate that we can indeed, on rare occasions transfer COVID to our cats and even dogs, but there is no instance yet of any of our domestic pets transferring it back to us.

In a video interview with the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, Dr. Sandra Newbury, Director of the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin noted, “In New York City right now there are numerous people who are sick with COVID, we can assume that many people have cats, and we are not seeing cats flocking to the emergency room in crisis from COVID infections.”

Dr. Newbury continued, “There is no sign at all that animals are part of the serology of this disease. When we study the disease travel from one place to another we can always trace that to a human.”

But she cautioned that there is danger to our cats from us. “We do know that there is the possibility that humans can infect our beautiful cats” though haven’t seen that happen in the US yet, but she noted we haven’t tested much. “Let’s be so careful,” she said, “because we don’t want people to panic.”

Most importantly, Dr. Newbury suggested, people need to have a care plan for their pets in they instance they themselves develop COVID-19 and they should quarantine away from their pets as well as humans, finding someone else to feed and care for them.

Big cats in the Bronx Zoo

A Malayan tiger named Nadia was tested and found to be infected with the coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo after exhibiting symptoms, and six other big cats were exhibiting symptoms as well. No one is certain how the cats were infected. The zoo staff presumes it was from an asymptomatic or presymptomatic staff member though no one has been tested, but no one has developed clinical symptoms of COVID-19. The zoo closed on March 16, even to volunteers. Staff members don’t physically interact with the big cats which is puzzling because infection seems to take a prolonged exposure to the disease. The cats developed the characteristic dry cough and diminished appetite. Only one tiger was tested because general anesthetic was required for a blood draw. All the infected cats are expected to recover.

Social distancing for your pets!

However, we still need to keep our pets in our social distancing plan—meaning that we need for them to quarantine as we do and keep a distance from other people and animals when we leave our quarantine area.

  • Dogs at the dog park should keep a distance from other dogs—and from people, just as we should.
  • Indoor-outdoor cats should not roam and mingle with other cats, animals and people.
  • Continue feeding your community cats because caring for animals is considered “essential” under all definitions, employing all social distancing and wellness guidelines. If you become ill, stop, quarantine, and find another caretaker to take your place.

Fur can act as a fomite, a material that can catch and hold the infection just like any doorknob or keypad. If an infected person coughs on your cat and your cat comes home and you pet and hug your cat, the infection could be transferred to you.

And in reverse, anyone who is infected with COVID-19 should quarantine themselves from animals just as they distance themselves from people to keep from spreading the virus to either animals or people. If you become sick with COVID-19, no matter how sick you are, someone else should care for your pets.

Several very new and very small studies of SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals have shown that the disease is more infectious among ferrets and cats who will develop symptoms and develop antibodies and other ferrets and cats near the infected animals will also catch the infection within days. Another study of cats only from Wuahan China showed that cats will become seropositive when in homes with actively infected humans, and will also develop infection from a milder exposure. Exposed dogs will typically not develop symptoms but may develop antibodies showing they were infected and their immune systems responded. Pigs and chickens showed no changes.

While it’s good to know they won’t suffer from the disease as much as we do, animals who develop the disease, even if they are asymptomatic or only develop antibodies may lead to an animal reservoir for this disease that keeps it in the environment.

Caring for your community cats in the COVID-19 era

Alley Cat Allies assures it’s fine to provide food and water for your community cats, but refrain from contact for both their good and your own. Wash your hands before you dish out the food and water to be sure you don’t transfer anything to them. Wear gloves when you clean up their feeding area, disposing of the dishes if disposable, and thoroughly washing their food bowls if not.

There are no prohibitions on caring for your community cats. Just remember that the bigger risk is from us to them.

For an explanation of zoonotic diseases and a background on COVID-19 and this coronavirus, read Humans, Pets, and the Coronavirus


Read my entire series of articles on the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19


And remember…

Wash your hands and don’t touch your face!


USDA Statement on the Confirmation of COVID-19 in a Tiger in New York (

Tiger tests positive for coronavirus at Bronx Zoo, first known case in the world (

COVID-19 in a tiger: New York (

Dr. Sandra Newbury helps unravel the tiger tale (

SARS-CoV-2 in cats: Wuhan, China (

SARS-CoV-2 in ferrets, cats and dogs: A new experimental study (

Social distancing and dog walking are compatible… with some common sense (

AMA: Doctors: Here’s what to do if you’re exposed to COVID-19 (

CDC: Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Healthcare Personnel… (

Alley Cat Allies: COVID-19 Guide: Community Cat Caregivers (


Other articles here about COVID-19

Humans, Pets, and the Coronavirus (

No Coronavirus Found in Pets, But Keep Them in Your Emergency Plan (

Fostering Saves Lives, Self-quarantine With a Foster Kitty During the COVID-19 Crisis (


Veterinary Medicine During A Time Of Restriction Of Elective Services And Social Distancing (

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19):Owner Contact Guidelines (

What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (


Social distancing WITHIN veterinary clinics (

COVID-19: Protecting your veterinary team during the pandemic (

FAQs – Practicing Veterinary Medicine in Pennsylvania During the COVID-19 Pandemic (–Practicing-Veterinary-Medicine-in-Pennsylvania-During-the-COVID-19-Pandemic)

COVID-19 Response: Limiting Non-Emergency Surgery in Shelters and Spay Neuter Clinics- updated 3/16/20 (

Telemedicine Resources During COVID-19  (

Considerations for mobile and house call veterinarians during the COVID-19 pandemic (


Social distancing and veterinary clinics: A video (

Read more articles about Health and Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals


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Great Rescues Day Book:
Portraits, Rescue Stories, Holidays and Events, Essential Feline Information, All in One Book

day book with cat portraits
Great Rescues Day Book

This information is part of what’s available in Great Rescues Day Book!

Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.

Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.

The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.

Read more and order.


All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.

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© 2022 | | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Weekly schedule of features:

Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life

Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters

Tuesday: Rescue Stories

Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork

Thursday: New Merchandise

Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy

Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats

And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!





From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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