Five cats in Kerala have died days after they were found in a hospital ward dedicated for coronavirus patients in Kasargod district, PTI reported on Thursday. The animal husbandry department has sent the vital organs of the five felines – two male, a female and her two kittens – for detailed examination at the the State Institute of Animal Disease Centre in Thiruvananthapuram.

Preliminary postmortem reports of the cats have not revealed any trace of Covid-19, Dr Tito Joseph, the Kasargod district coordinator of animal disease control project, told PTI. If needed, the organs would be sent to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases lab in Bhopal for further examination, Joseph added.

Experts indicated that stress could also be the reason for their deaths as the cats were kept in a small crate with a narrow passage of air after being rescued from the ward.

The cats were found loitering in the Covid-19 wards and were caught on March 28 by dog snatchers who were summoned by the Department of Animal Husbandry following a directive from the district collector. The female cat died two days after was she was placed in a crate at the Animal Birth Control Centre in Kasaragod. Later, two more cats and the kittens also died.

“The stray cats were caged immediately,” said Joseph. “It is certain that they could not adapt to the situation in the crate. So, we believe stress could be the reason for their death. But, since it happened amid the coronavirus scare we cannot take a chance.”

MJ Sethulakshmi, who is an epidemiologist and was part of the team of doctors who conducted the postmortem, too, said that no signs of Covid-19 could be predicted during the procedure.

The development came days after the Central Zoo Authority sounded a red alert for all zoological parks in India and told them to collect testing samples of animals on a fortnightly basis, after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo of New York tested positive for the coronavirus

In a letter to all states and Union Territories, Central Zoo Authority Member Secretary SP Yadav advised all zoos to remain “on highest alertness” and monitor animals round-the-clock using CCTVs for any abnormal behaviour or symptoms.

Meanwhile, the Union health ministry on Friday morning said the total confirmed cases in India are 6,412. Out of the total cases in the country, 199 patients have died, and 5,709 are being treated.

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