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: January 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.

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 the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.”

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

“The current pandemic is being sustained by 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 against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.” 

“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 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 (you can make one if necessary), 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.

Can people infect cats with COVID-19?

We are still learning about this virus, but it appears in some cases, yes. According to USDA reporting, by the end of 2020, there had been 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in cats and 38 in dogs in the United States. The CDC says it “appears that [COVID-19] can spread from people to animals in some situations.”

Alley Cat Allies is watching this topic very closely and will provide updates as we have them. To put things in perspective, 54 confirmed cases is a minuscule number of cats infected compared to the 21 million cases in people in the U.S. by the end of 2020.  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.”

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

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. Alley Cat Allies also recommends wearing a face mask and gloves while caring for a colony.

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.

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.