Three pet cats in China were recently put to death by authorities, against the will of their owner. Officials claim that both the owner and the cats tested positive for COVID-19. The incident took place in the city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province.
Ms. Liu, the owner of the cats, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sep. 21. She was ordered by authorities to isolate herself in a state hospital. In order to ensure that her pets would not starve while she was away, Liu left food and water out for them at home.
Soon after, a community worker dropped in to conduct a test on the cats. They were found to be positive for COVID-19 in both the first and second tests. This resulted in the authorities taking drastic action. Despite Liu’s appeals, the officials opted euthanize the cats.
The incident has drawn significant backlash on social media, with a report by The Beijing News attracting over 52,000 comments online.
“I firmly disagree with this approach! To put it bluntly, it’s a crude, simplistic and lazy form of management, just in order to dodge responsibility,” a social media user said on Weibo.
A community worker tried to justify the decision to kill the cats, saying that there was no available medical treatment for animals infected with COVID-19. According to the worker, the cats would have continued leaving viral traces. If left untreated, they might have ended up infecting the owner as well as posed a risk to other residents of the apartment complex, the worker added.
Feng Zijian, researcher with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Beijing News that cats repeatedly testing positive for COVID-19 need to be euthanized. However, Vanessa Barrs, a professor who specializes in animal health and disease, noted that the chances of infected pets spreading the infection to their owners are low.
“So far, in the whole pandemic, there have been no confirmed reports of cat to human infection, unlike the situation with farmed mink in Europe, where transmission from COVID-19 infected mink to humans occurred… The situation is very different for pet cats and dogs, and other solutions can be implemented for animals,” Vanessa told Reuters.
Rachael Tarlinton, a virology professor at Britain’s University of Nottingham, also agreed that the possibility of an infected cat contaminating an environment to the extent that COVID-19 gets transmitted to the owner “doesn’t seem very realistic.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of animals spreading the COVID-19 virus to humans is “considered to be low.”“People with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife… At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to people,” the CDC said in a Sept. 24 update.