Boarding catteries take in cats for a number of reasons – people going on holiday, people needing care for animals because they have to go into hospital, or because they are in circumstances where they cannot care for their cat. Rules as to whether boarding catteries should be kept open or close during this pandemic probably vary across the world. However, catteries could be boarding the cats of key workers, hospitalised owners or those unable to return from holiday. Of course, owner hospitalisation may be due to coronavirus infection, so this has to be taken into account too. Hopefully, people are not going away on holiday at this time.
General advice to owners
The advice International Cat Care and the International Society of Feline Medicine are giving remains as previously stated by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA):
- For households with no symptoms of COVID-19, take normal sensible hygiene precautions and wash hands after handling pets.
- For owners more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health issues the same advice applies, take sensible hygiene precautions when handling cats with outdoor access and avoid close contact.
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19 you should avoid direct interaction with pets if possible, and wear gloves and a mask, and wash hands before and after handling any pet.
- There is no current evidence of transmission from pet fur to humans, hence no current advice to clean pets before handling them. The use of disinfectants on pets may cause significant distress to both animals and humans, and potential toxicity or chemical burns (especially for cats), so this is not recommended at this time.
Advice for boarding catteries
Boarding catteries have to think of cats, but the largest risk in this coronavirus situation is the risk to cattery workers because of interaction with cat owners. The advice given here is written ‘with an abundance of caution’ with the knowledge we have at the moment, but also hopefully with common sense and an understanding of cats and their needs too.
Where are the risks?
Good boarding catteries which have been well designed and are well managed are excellent at protecting cats from various viruses and bacteria which can affect them in normal life; this includes sneeze barriers and rigorous cleaning and disinfection as usual. The discipline of protecting cats in this way is an excellent basis for taking forward further activities to protect cat owners and proprietors too. The principle risk for transmission of coronavirus is from people.
Admitting and discharging cats
Minimising interaction with people is obviously key to reducing risk. Here are some suggestions about how to do that:
- Let owners know of the new arrangements on your website or by phone beforehand so they understand what to do and why
- Complete paperwork and gather the normal information on the cat beforehand over the phone, online conference call or via email etc, rather than face to face
- No owners should be allowed into the cattery, even the waiting area or office, not even to use the toilet for example
- Ask if owners are showing any signs of COVID-9 infection
- Ask that just one healthy person bring in the cat
- Ask owners to phone you from the car park to tell you they have arrived and not get out of their car
- Collect the cat directly from the car maintaining social distance from the owner and wearing a mask, apron and gloves (personal protective equipment, PPE)
- Wipe over the surface of the cat carrier with disinfectant before putting it down and then either return to the client (preferred) or store away from contact with people or animals, wash hands after any contact with the basket or cat
- No paperwork should be accepted from the client, consent and other forms should be scanned or photographed by the owner and emailed to you
- Arrange to take payment by bank transfer or card if possible before the cat is picked up, rather than handle cash or perform a transaction when the person is there
- Do not allow any visiting of the cat
- Reverse this process when giving the cat back to the owner – again in the car park maintaining social distancing and wearing PPE
- Make sure that you have a secondary contact and owners’ wishes should the worst happen and they cannot collect their cat for whatever reason.
Settling the cat in and caring for it
- Put the cat in its unit and leave it quietly. We do not advise wiping down the cat as that requires interaction which could actually bring cattery workers into closer interaction with the cat. Many cats would be fearful or aggressive (because of fear) if forced to undergo wiping as soon as they arrive in a strange place. This also avoids the risk of bites or scratches which could require people to attend hospital for antibiotic treatment, and put more pressure on the medical services. There is no current evidence the virus can be spread from cats to humans
- Good catteries usually ask owners to bring bedding from home because it smells familiar for the cat, but in these extraordinary times, you must use fresh clean bedding from the cattery and not admit any items from the owner’s home.
- Wash hands thoroughly, frequently and between handling cats or touching the unit in which they are living.
- The virus is not thought to be able to be passed on from stroking animals. It is known to survive on smooth surfaces for about 72 hours and on paper for about 24 hours. Because cat hair is porous and fibrous, it is very unlikely that you would contract COVID-19 by touching the cat. However, with an abundance of caution, do not cuddle or have close contact or groom the cat for a day or two – this will not harm the cat and will ensure minimising even a very remote risk. Always wash hands before and after handling cats.
- Do not work in the cattery at all if you are isolating or showing any signs of COVID-19 infection.
- Check with your own cattery veterinary practice how they are working and when they are open and how to get hold of them etc; if you are caring for cats you need to be sure you can access veterinary care if necessary.
- Maintain social distancing as you work – you may have to consider how you give medication if it has required two people working closely together in the past – consider treats and other ways to medicate the cats.
Taking in cats from positive households
Taking cats from known positive households requires extra vigilance and should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances. If you decide to accept a cat from a positive of home, then implement the following precautions:
- Ask that the person delivering the cat is not symptomatic or tested positive for coronavirus
- Ask the owner to wipe down the surface of the basket before putting it into the car
- Transfer the cat to its unit – do not keep the basket but hand it back to the owner, maintaining social distancing
- Ensure PPE (gloves, aprons and masks) are worn during handover and whilst caring for the cat and dispense/wash these with safely. Vigilant washing of hands can be used if preferred if gloves are not available.
- Any clothing worn when working with the cats should be removed before leaving work and placed in a washable bag that can be put straight into a washing machine to avoid cross-contamination
Caring for the cat from a positive household
- It has been shown under research conditions that cats can be infected and may be able to pass the virus on to other cats, but it is currently unclear if cat to cat transmission is possible in natural infections, with limited data from experimental studies only available. Therefore, even though this is very unlikely (and especially so in a well-constructed cattery with sneeze barriers), and with an abundance of caution, remove any even tiny risk to other cats by keeping the cat in isolation for 14 days. This is particularly important if the cat is from a home with COVID-19 positive or symptomatic owners
- There may be some catteries which hold or exercise cats in communal pens – cats should be isolated away from other cats. Communal exercise areas are not acceptable in boarding catteries even in normal circumstances to ensure disease control
- Use mask, barrier clothing and gloves/vigilant handwashing when interacting with the cat and cleaning its unit. Keep items such as litter trays and food bowls separate from the main cattery
- Wash hands and change PPE, if wearing, between handling each cat. Handle cats from positive household last.
- If these cats show signs of illness – use barrier nursing and contact the vet as usual, tell the vet its history and take veterinary advice
- Do not take in such cats if you are on the vulnerable list and have underlying health problems
Information is constantly emerging on this virus and up to date information can be found in the WSAVA Coronavirus hub at https://wsava.org/news/highlighted-news/the-new-coronavirus-and-companion-animals-advice-for-wsava-members/ and the American Veterinary Medical Association at https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19.