The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Cats and SARS-CoV-2 Infections

DEAR READERS: Cats infected experimentally with SARS-CoV-2 transmitted the virus to other cats, researchers reported in The New England Journal of Medicine. But the cats did not develop clinical signs of illness.

In 2016, an H7N2 influenza outbreak in New York City cat shelters highlighted the public health implications of cat-to-human transmission to workers in animal shelters. Cats may be a silent intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2, because infected cats may not show any appreciable symptoms that might be recognized by their owners.

In early May, a cat in Spain that died from a common feline respiratory condition tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, according to the results of a necropsy, making the cat one of a handful worldwide to test positive for the coronavirus. The cat belonged to a family whose members had tested positive for the virus, but the viral level was low, and there is no evidence pets can transmit the virus to people, says professor Joaquim Segales of the Animal Health Research Center in Catalonia.

So vigilance and more monitoring are called for, where there are cats in homes where people are infected with the coronavirus. Such cats should be kept indoors and not allowed to roam outside. To date, there is no evidence that cats carrying this coronavirus can infect people, but if allowed outdoors, they could contact other cats who are infected -- whether with this coronavirus or other diseases -- that they might bring back to the families with whom they live.

DEAR DR. FOX: This is my second time writing to you, thanking you for your valuable work. The mistreatment of animals is a potent cause of disease. Included in this mistreatment is taking away their natural habitat.

The New York Times had two interesting articles a few weeks ago on this same topic: “Our Cruel Treatment of Animals Led to the Coronavirus” and “Animal Viruses Are Jumping to Humans. Forest Loss Makes It Easier.”

I am older now, and retired. A few years ago, I adopted a dog because his owner could not look after him. The dog showed me that all animals have human qualities in some measure, and all deserve to be treated humanely. I wish more people would adopt animals so they could see this for themselves. Then maybe we would transition away from eating our friends to a diet consisting of Earth’s bounty.

Keep up the good work. -- B.C.S., Nassau, Bahamas

DEAR B.C.S.: I very much appreciate your comments and references to articles that connect public health with our continued exploitation and consumption of other animals, wild and domesticated. Many consumers are now waking up to this tragic reality and are changing over to eating less, or no, animal produce, and see that a plant-based diet is the wave of the future.

Several people sent me this relevant article from Time magazine, which I encourage readers to find online: “We Need to Rethink Our Food System to Prevent the Next Pandemic.”

I also appreciate what you say about the dog you adopted and what the dog taught you. It is an obfuscation and denial that other animals do not have emotions, and cannot suffer as we do. That animals do “have feelings” has been proven by ethologists and other scientists. So it is no lie to contend that they have the capacity to experience fear and anxiety, as well as affection and security. By extension, therefore, they have interests and rights to humane treatment, which is our collective and singular responsibility.

Lying, denial, obfuscating -- concealing the truth -- have become commonplace in these times, from the highest levels of public office to our own personal lives. A life unexamined is a life unlived. We must all examine the truths we live by, especially in relation to the rest of the animal kingdom, and begin to make amends.

One truth is that there are too many of us on Earth to live on the meat-based diets that are now documented to be a major contributing factor to climate change, habitat loss and species extinction -- plus a host of food-borne illnesses, which the current COVID-19 pandemic affirms. This truth is inescapable, but is denied by vested interests, including those who believe that animals were created for man’s use.

(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.)