Worried cat owners have been reassured their pets can still leave the house during lockdown.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has clarified its advice on looking after cats during the coronavirus pandemic after its website crashed due to high volumes of traffic following reports suggesting all cats should be kept inside.
A BVA spokesman said the association had responded to questions from the BBC about advice for pet owners and gave both general advice and specific guidance for infected households, but had not made the distinction clear.
Association president Daniella Dos Santos said only cats from infected or self-isolating households should be kept inside – and only if they are happy to stay indoors.
She said: “It’s incredibly important that information and advice for the public is clear and we regret that this story will have caused worry and upset amongst cat owners.
“We are not advising that all cats are kept indoors. Only cats from infected households or where their owners are self-isolating, and only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors.
“Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.
“There have been a tiny number of cases of Covid-19 in animals and in all cases, it is likely that the transmission was human to animal. There is no evidence that pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners.
“From the small number of cases, it appears that dogs do not show symptoms, but cats can show clinical signs of the disease.”
Pet owners are advised to practise good hand hygiene as the virus could be carried on animals’ fur, but they are urged not to panic about their animals.
A four-year-old tiger called Nadia at Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week.
Nadia and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who was not yet showing symptoms, the zoo said.
However, experts have said there is no evidence cats can transmit the virus.
Professor Ken Smith, professor of companion animal pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, said: “The key messaging for cat owners, and others responsible for the health and welfare of animals under their care (including in this case zookeepers) concerned to avoid spread of infection from humans to animals is that contact between infected people and other animals should be minimised.
“Specifically, basic hygiene measures should always be implemented. This includes hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.
“In the context of pet cats, if cats are present within a Covid-19 positive household, they should be kept indoors.”