A pet cat has become the first animal to test positive for coronavirus in the UK.
The only details known about the feline are that it lives in England and was tested at a laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, last week, on 22 July.
Evidence suggests it contracted the virus from its owners, who had previously tested positive for COVID-19 – but both the animal and family have since made a “full recovery”, the government said.
It added there is “no evidence” the cat transmitted coronavirus to its owners – or that any other domestic pets are able to, either.
Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss explained it was a “very rare event” and infected animals detected so far only show “mild clinical signs” and recover “within a few days”.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said the finding “should not be a cause for alarm”.
“In line with the general advice on fighting coronavirus, you should wash your hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals,” she added.
The cat was initially diagnosed with feline herpes – a common respiratory infection – by a private vet, the environment department said on Monday.
A sample was then tested for coronavirus as part of a research programme by the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the feline was also found to have SARS-CoV2 – the virus known to cause COVID-19 in humans.
The case has been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health in line with international commitments, the government confirmed.
It added there have been “a very small number of confirmed cases in pets in other countries” in Europe, North America and Asia.
Professor Margaret Hosie from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research was part of the team that led research into the cat.
She said there have been “sporadic reports” of felines having coronavirus in households that also tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the US.
One high-profile example was a tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo back in April.
“All available evidence suggests that the cat was infected from its owners, who had previously tested positive,” Professor Hosie said.
“The cat and its owners have since made a full recovery and there was no transmission of the virus to other animals or people in the household.”
In the early weeks of the UK’s outbreak, worried cat owners crashed the website of the British Veterinary Association following confusion as to whether their pets would have to be kept indoors.
It was later clarified that only cats from households infected with coronavirus, or where their owners are self-isolating, should be kept indoors.