The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Coronavirus and Cat Concerns

DEAR READERS: In a report in the May 13 New England Journal of Medicine, on the topic of the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in domestic cats, Peter J. Halfmann, Ph.D. et al. state:

“With reports of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to domestic cats and to tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo, coupled with our data showing the ease of transmission between domestic cats, there is a public health need to recognize and further investigate the potential chain of human–cat–human transmission. This is of particular importance given the potential for SARS-CoV-2 transmission between family members in households with cats while living under shelter-in-place orders. 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. Moreover, 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. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for pet owners regarding SARS-CoV-2 ( Given the need to stop the coronavirus pandemic through various mechanisms, including breaking transmission chains, a better understanding of the role cats may play in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans is needed.”

As we fight COVID-19, the Animal Legal Defense Fund published a white paper with law and policy recommendations to prepare for and prevent the next pandemic. See also a Cambridge University report by William Sutherland and associates (, stated that shutting down China’s live animal markets was not enough. The study also highlights how pandemic diseases can jump from animals to humans, and offers 275 ways to mitigate future crises -- from going vegan to limiting livestock production and consumption.

DEAR DR. FOX: Our 6-year-old shorthaired cat stopped eating two weeks ago. She became very lethargic, and she has started hiding and stopped grooming. She is urinating fine, but producing very little poop. She is drinking water.

We took her to the emergency room for cats. Her heart, lungs and eyes were all good and clear. They gave her mirtazapine and Cerenia. She did have a spike in her food intake for about a day and a half, and also ate a few pebbles of Iams dry food here and there.

But as of today, she ate about two bites yesterday and nothing today. We have tried many different flavors and brands, both wet and dry, plus real tuna and salmon. I grated Parmesan cheese on her food, used chicken broth, warmed her food, etc. She goes to the food immediately, smells it, then walks away, meowing.

As seniors, money is an issue and we just can’t afford unlimited medical care. We are wondering what advice you have for our precious baby. -- V.T & J.T., Brick, New Jersey

DEAR V.T. & J.T.: I understand your predicament, since more tests are likely in order -- at least abdominal palpation, as well as an X-ray or sonogram to see if there is a fur-ball filling the stomach, or a lymphoma tumor. She could have one or more tooth abscesses or another oral health problem that makes eating very painful. Such abscesses would also make her body toxic with infection and inflammation -- what I call the oral plague of cats.

Perhaps you can discuss a payment plan with the veterinary hospital. A cat who is not eating can get serious health complications within just a few days. It is good that she is drinking. Try adding some mushed-up canned sardines, or offering her some meaty or fishy Gerber baby food.

Keep me posted, and good luck!


The number of tick-borne illnesses reported in the U.S. more than doubled from 2004 to 2018, according to the CDC, but fewer than half of the nation’s public health and vector-control agencies have active tick surveillance programs. Just 12% conduct or fund tick-control programs, researchers reported in the Journal of Medical Entomology. “Pathogen testing is an essential component of surveillance, and is needed in order to understand tick-borne disease risk to communities,” said lead author Emily Mader, who manages the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases at Cornell University.

Our state and federal government agencies need better funding for these programs -- now more than ever, with climate change-related increases in insect-borne diseases.


Kansas became the fourth state this year with confirmed vesicular stomatitis virus cases when the virus was found in horses at several private properties in the south-central part of the state. VSV is transmitted primarily by black flies, sand flies and midges. Owners of horses, cattle, goats, sheep, llamas and other susceptible animals should be diligent about preventing flies and other insects from thriving where animals are housed. (Hutchinson News, Kansas, June 17)

(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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