The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Coronavirus Update

DEAR READERS: On April 22, two cats in New York belonging to different owners tested positive for infection with the coronavirus after showing signs of a mild respiratory infection. The owner of one cat had been diagnosed with COVID-19, but the owner of the other had not. This does not call for people to abandon their cats, but to be responsible and keep them indoors. There is no evidence yet that infected cats can pass the coronavirus to people.

Also on April 22, four more tigers and three lions at New York City’s Bronx Zoo tested positive for the virus. All of the big cats are receiving veterinary care and are expected to recover.

On the human front, there are fears of greater mortalities in poorer communities and refugee camps, where there is overcrowding and poor sanitation. Food riots and anarchy are predicted. The food-production system is foundering in the U.S., as slaughterhouses close down with workers succumbing to the disease.

Some are claiming that this virus spread into the human population following a lapse in security at a biotechnology laboratory in Wuhan, China. But regardless of any truth to that theory, the fact remains that wild animals for sale in China’s meat markets can carry coronaviruses and other diseases that could spread to humans, and that these markets should be prohibited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 6 out of 10 infectious diseases in people come from animals, including diseases caused by coronaviruses. Globally, zoonotic diseases have been on the rise for decades. Human interactions with animals have created a perfect storm for increased zoonotic spillover.

For more on this topic, see the article “What SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Disease Are Telling Us: A Holistic Veterinary and One Health View,” posted on my website (drfoxonehealth.com).

DEAR DR. FOX: Your January column regarding feral cat management using megestrol acetate (MA) and FeralStat is problematic. I feel compelled to comment on your column as a feral cat surgeon practicing Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR), the retired Service Head of Shelter Medicine at the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs.

Your column does mention the problem of accurate dosing of MA. There is scientific evidence that reported side effects are dose-dependent; therefore, a big concern would be controlling the daily dose of individual cats, not to mention preventing the dosing of nontarget species. For these reasons, ACC&D (and other animal welfare organizations, such as Alley Cat Allies) cannot recommend MA for use in free-roaming, outdoor and/or colony situations.

Your column also referred to cats’ relationship with wildlife. However, your readers should know that there is substantial scientific evidence that cats’ role as a “super-predator” (your words) is overstated. The reality is that by sterilizing feral cats, there are fewer cats to predate. There is also evidence that managed colonies of feral cats, those provided resources such as food, are less likely to hunt. While I am an advocate for feral cat sterilization (surgical or nonsurgical, when safe alternatives become available), FeralStat only represents false hope.

The compassionate, hardworking individuals who care for free-roaming cats in our communities want to do what is best for the cats. Regrettably, MA does not fall into that category. -- G. Robert Weedon, DVM, MPH; Community Cat Surgeon; Lakeland, Florida

DEAR DR. WEEDON: I always welcome expert opinion and commentary, and commend you for your dedicated work.

I share your reservations about using hormone-laced bait to reduce breeding of free-roaming cats, and agree that surgical sterilization of those cats who can be trapped is preferable.

I strongly disagree with you, however, that these cats, when well-fed by human volunteers, do not kill wildlife. I say this having witnessed two TNR “community cats” released onto our property, and two other stray cats, killing chipmunks and songbirds just after we had fed them (in preparation for trapping them and successfully socializing and re-homing them).

In order for the kind of programs in which you are involved to be ethically acceptable, in my opinion, there should be no wildlife present and at risk. Also, such cats are difficult to re-trap when they need veterinary care, which is a humane issue.

Your reasoning that such groups of nonbreeding cats means that there will be fewer cats in a given area is all very well if those are closed colonies, or if TNR is done on a massive scale. Otherwise, there will always be non-neutered cats moving in, competing with them for food, fighting with them and spreading disease.

The cats in such programs can only be sacrificial animals to the erroneous belief in population control when there is not, in concert, strict legislation and enforcement prohibiting owned cats being allowed off their owners’ property. This is not permitted for dog owners, and the same should hold for cat owners, many of whom need to be educated about making indoor life consonant with cats’ quality of life, health and overall well-being. Cats should only spend time outdoors in a “catio” or similar enclosure, in my opinion.

For relevant documentation, see my articles on this issue posted on my website (drfoxonehealth.com) under “CATS.”

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com 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.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)