How to save & take care of a kitten and feral cats - an advocacy tool kit

COVID-19 Guide: Community Cat Caregivers

Guide/How-to| Disaster Response

Answers to your Questions & Helpful Checklists

Published: April 2020
Most Recently Updated: August 2021

We at Alley Cat Allies want to make sure that you have the information you need about caring for community cats during this time of COVID-19 – including if you become unable to care for your cats. Please find below several answers based on information from leading animal and human health experts. In addition to these questions and answers, you will also find two checklists for community cat caregivers that may be helpful.

Our goal is to provide you with good common-sense advice and to clear up misconceptions. The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation in which new information is continually becoming available, and we will update this page accordingly.

Get Vaccinated to Save Lives

If you have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, we strongly recommend you do so as soon as possible. Getting vaccinated will protect you, your family—including its animal members—and the cats and kittens you care for.

You should know:

  • Cats CAN contract COVID-19 through contact with infected people. When you are vaccinated, they are safer.
  • In addition to adhering to local mandates, keep informed about the COVID-19 threat in your area. If COVID-19 cases are rising where you live, consider taking extra precautions.

Can a cat give me COVID-19?

There is nothing to indicate that cats can infect humans with COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, “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.”

Echoing this, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) states:

“The current pandemic is being sustained through human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
“There is no evidence that companion animals are playing an epidemiological role in the spread of human infections of SARS-CoV-2.”
“There is no justification in taking measures which may compromise the welfare of companion animals.” 

“While community cats are not pet cats or conventional companions (though many community cat caregivers have a strong bond with the cats in their care), everything said above regarding COVID-19 and companion animals applies equally to community cats. Both the cats who live indoors with us and community cats are the same species, Felis catus.”

We want to emphasize this: For all the millions of cats and kittens who share our homes or whom we feed outdoors in our communities there has been not one confirmed case of cat-to-human COVID-19 transmission.

There is no need to feel unsafe feeding community cats, who have a natural tendency to social distance, or to be wary of the cat in your home. No major health organization has found any evidence that cats can give COVID-19 to humans.

Can people infect cats with COVID-19?

Current evidence suggests yes, humans can transmit COVID-19 to cats. According to the USDA, “it appears that [the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 in people] can spread from people to animals in some situations. A small number of animals worldwide, have been reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19.”

Alley Cat Allies is watching this topic very closely and will provide updates as we have them. Based on information from experts, though cats can contract COVID-19 from people, it is rare and symptoms are nearly always mild.

To put things in perspective, the USDA reports that as of August 2021, 97 cats and 86 dogs had confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States. There have been 36.6 million cases of people in the U.S. in that same timeframe. While there are mitigating factors, including lack of animal testing, COVID-19 is a primarily human disease that rarely affects animals.

And for the companion animals who were confirmed to have contracted the virus, as the CDC puts it, “most only had mild illness and fully recovered. Serious illness in pets appears to be extremely rare.”

To protect cats, Alley Cat Allies recommends common-sense precautions that apply to stemming the spread of the virus in general:

Get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination is the best and most effective way to lower the risk of contracting and transmitting the virus.

Restrict travel. New lockdowns amid surging COVID-19 numbers urge against travel. Please do not travel when travel prohibitions are in place. When you must travel to high infection areas, do not bring your pets with you unless absolutely necessary.

Uphold best hygiene practices. When feeding community cats outdoors, be sure to wash your hands frequently. Bring hand sanitizer with you and take clean plates to every single feeding. When feeding time is over, remove all plates and wash them immediately. If you are not vaccinated, Alley Cat Allies also recommends wearing a face mask and gloves while caring for community cats.

Secure a stand-in caregiver. Should you become ill or suspect you are ill with or have been exposed to COVID-19, avoid contact with the cats in your home and community cats outdoors as much as possible. Alley Cat Allies has information on how to safely care for cats should you become ill, and how to secure a substitute caregiver for your pets or community cats.

The same rules apply for your interactions with cats as with other people – if you have COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or otherwise suspect that you might have COVID-19, you should isolate yourself within your home. This reduces the risk of you spreading COVID-19 to cats and to others.

Can I continue to feed community cats?

Yes. Caring for live animals is considered an “essential” activity. Even if your city or state has a “Stay at Home” order, you should continue to feed the community cats in your care. Remember to practice social distancing from any other people you encounter, wear a mask if you are not vaccinated, and wash your hands frequently. For more on this question, please go to “Feeding Community Cats During COVID-19”.

Handout to Maintain Social Distancing While Caring for Community Cats

While feeding community cats, you may be approached by curious neighbors or other community members. To help you maintain social distancing while also explaining your work as a caregiver, we’ve created a Social Distancing and Caregivers Handout.

Download the handout for free and print out multiple copies to bring with you when you’re out in the field.

We suggest keeping a stack of them available on a nearby table or chair or, when necessary, to place one on the ground and back away so the other person can pick it up.

If I get sick can I continue to feed community cats?

No. You put yourself, others, and the cats at risk by disregarding quarantine if you are sick with COVID-19. If you have COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or otherwise suspect that you have COVID-19, you need to find others to care for the cats who depend on you. Below are ideas for how to find someone to fill in for you and a checklist of what information to pass along to a temporary caregiver.

Having trouble affording cat food?

Please see our state-by-state list of animal food banks on our website. This resource is frequently updated.

What about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?

Conducting TNR is a critical part of community cat care. However, during the COVID-19 crisis, the resources needed for TNR—like access to spay and neuter clinics and community cat-friendly veterinarians—may be limited.

Alley Cat Allies has COVID-19 TNR guidelines to help you conduct TNR with proper safety precautions and locate a veterinarian and secure a spay or neuter appointment during the pandemic. You will most likely need to call your local veterinary clinic immediately and place yourself on a waiting list.

How can I be prepared and find a fill-in or new cat colony caregiver?

  • Ask people in any cat organizations with whom you are affiliated.
  • Call your local shelter or humane society/SPCA.
  • Check Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network for other caregivers near you.
  • Ask animal-loving friends and family members.
  • Contact Alley Cat Allies at [email protected]. We will do our best to find a substitute colony caregiver for you. Please include the information in the checklist below.

Checklist of information to give a new cat colony caregiver

Prepare the information below now so that, in a moment of crisis, you can pass it along quickly without having to scramble. Email it to the people you have identified as able to fill in for you if needed. Don’t depend on just one person to have this information. You might also print it and put it on your refrigerator door so it’s easily found. Please include:

  • Exact location of cat feeding station(s). Draw a map if needed or pinpoint on a Google satellite or street-view map. Be sure to give parking and entry codes or any other instructions that may be needed to access the sites.
  • Feeding details. Describe what to feed and how much. Be sure to provide instructions on refilling water bowls if this is part of your routine. Include the times that the cats are normally fed. If the substitute caregiver cannot accommodate this time, ask them to be consistent with any new time they set.
  • Cat descriptions. Share how many cats are in each colony and, if possible, descriptions or photos with their names. Indicate the microchip numbers for each cat if they have them.
  • Contact info for all fill-in caregivers. Provide the names and contact information of all the potential fill-in caregivers you have identified. That way if extra help is needed, these individuals can reach out to each other.
  • Name of organization or veterinarian. If known, provide the name of the clinic, veterinarian, or organization that spayed or neutered and vaccinated the cats.
  • Extra food, if you can. If you are able, plan ahead by having surplus food for the cats on hand to give to the fill-in caregiver.