UK briefly considered extermination of all pet cats during early stage of COVID-19 pandemic

The government in the United Kingdom briefly considered exterminating all pet cats at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the uncertainty of spread. 

During an interview with Channel 4 News, former health minister Lord Bethell said that research into how the novel coronavirus was transmitted was still in its early stages and there had already been reports of felines, both domesticated and wild, that had contracted the disease. 

At that time, it was not known whether cats could potentially worsen the spread of COVID-19 and officials in the U.K. contemplated mass euthanization. 

"In fact, there was an idea at one moment that we may have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain," Bethell revealed. 

According to a 2022 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, about 24% of adults in the U.K. own a pet cat, which is about 11.1 million cats. 

"Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that?," Bethell added. 

Bethell further said that since there were many unknowns about how the virus spread between humans and animals at the time, more research was done and it was advised that transmission from pets to humans was relatively low. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information about this as well and said the spread of COVID-19 from pets to humans is not very likely but the risk of spreading the virus from human to pet or pet to pet is slightly higher during close contact. 

Pets that have tested positive for the virus should be put in quarantine. 

If the pet has not shown signs of symptoms within 72 hours without medical care, has not had a positive test result after 14 days or if all follow-up tests come out negative, it is safe to let them out of isolation. 

Despite this, other countries went through with the mass extermination of domestic pets such as Hong Kong which euthanized about 2,000 small animals at a pet store in 2022 after several hamsters and an employee tested positive for the virus. 

In 2020, Denmark euthanized 15 million minks bred at 1,139 mink farms after it was confirmed a mutated variation of the coronavirus infected minks being farmed for their fur. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.