The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

COVID-19 Cat Lockdown and a Pork Industry Alert

DEAR READERS: Several mammalian species, including cats, are susceptible to infection by people with COVID-19. A feline lockdown is called for, keeping all cats indoors (except for safe enclosures, aka “catios”). Otherwise, cats coming from homes with infected people could spread the virus to other cats. Back at home, those other cats could then infect any pet ferrets, rabbits or hamsters present. Infected cats could also spread the disease to wildlife, notably foxes, squirrels and rabbits.

Free-roaming and “working” rat-control cats could create a coronavirus pool of infection in various communities, becoming a link between an infected human population and wildlife already at risk ( If the virus infecting cats (including the big cats in zoos) ever mutates and becomes transmissible back to humans, there could be a public backlash of cat and/or wildlife extermination, as occurred centuries ago during the Black Death.

At least one company, Applied DNA Sciences, plans to initiate clinical trials of one of its vaccine candidates for veterinary use to prevent coronavirus infections in domestic cats. The trials will be conducted in collaboration with biotechnology firm EvviVax S.R.L. upon receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Precautionary measures -- like wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding crowds -- are essential elements of preventive medicine. All cat owners should treat keeping their cats indoors as another necessary precaution, and all TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs by animal shelters should be curtailed.

I share the concern of many virologists and epidemiologists that SARS-CoV-2 can mutate and become more infectious to one species, and then another. This has been reported in the Netherlands, where fur farm workers infected some mink, which then infected a previously healthy worker (

I am also concerned about the global pork industry, since pigs are susceptible to SARS-CoV—2 and thus potentially at risk from infected workers. A certain coronavirus in pigs (swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus, discovered in 2016 in pigs in China) has the potential not only to devastate the pork industry, but also to spill over to human populations, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (

It is high time we all turned to more plant-based diets, since produce is so much safer to eat, is more sustainably produced, and does not suffer.


A 16-year-old cat with severe respiratory illness was humanely euthanized and diagnosed with a SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to Pennsylvania State Veterinarian Kevin Brightbill. The cat lived in a home with several people who had positive COVID-19 tests. While there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to people, anyone with a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection should take precautions to prevent transmitting it to pets, says veterinarian Suresh Kuchipudi, a clinical professor of veterinary science at Pennsylvania State University.

DEAR DR. FOX: My dog is female, and has a very sweet, pleasant perfume smell just on the top of her head. It’s not coming from her breath or ears. What causes this? -- Z.C., Trenton, New Jersey

DEAR Z.C.: This issue comes up periodically, and I encourage people to sniff their dogs more. They have remarkable scent glands in the skin around their cheeks and on top of their heads. Some dogs give off little odor, if any, but others emit floral scents that remind me of frankincense, myrrh and sandalwood.

The purpose of these scent glands has yet to be determined, but they may have a calming or appeasing effect on other dogs -- similar to the calming pheromones coming from the skin around a mother dog’s nipples. (Years ago, a reader told me that when she was upset as a young child, her mother would tell her to go sniff their dog’s tummy to calm down!)

As a veterinarian, I was taught to use all my senses when evaluating an animal’s condition. Healthy animals, like healthy people, smell good! I advise all dog and cat owners to become accustomed to their animals’ scent. Any change could indicate a health issue -- perhaps dental, nutritional or one involving the kidneys or liver -- that would require veterinary attention.

(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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