Here’s another one of my favourites from the archive (largely because it didn’t happen to me) that was worth re-posting (original post date 11-Oct-2009).

I was talking with a colleague the other day and somehow norovirus came up. He explained how once, his wife had viral gastroenteritis and ended up vomiting on their cat. Weirdly enough, his wife told my wife the same story (they work together). My wife got a better version of the story which included a nice image of her chasing the cat around the house in her sickened state because the cat was splattering vomit all over the place. (Yuck!)

Anyway, beyond being an entertaining story (as long as it’s not you doing the puking and chasing), it raises the question: if you’ve turned your cat into a biohazardous (and stinky) norovirus vector, what do you do to clean it up?

Dogs and cats cannot become infected with norovirus. However, they could potentially act as a source of infection for people if their coats are contaminated with the pathogen. Usually, I think about this in the context of someone having a little contamination of their hands and subsequently touching a pet (not a vomit-soaked animal, although evidently that can happen too).

So, what should you do? I don’t really know. The CDC recommends using bleach or another approved disinfectant on contaminated surfaces, but that’s obviously not an option for a cat. Heating contaminated objects to 60C is another recommendation, but again, not for a live animal.

I guess giving the cat a bath would be a good start, and it would presumably greatly reduce the amount of norovirus on the coat. However, if you have viral gastroenteritis already you’re probably not in much of a state to do that. Another family member that is not flat-out sick in bed could do the job. However, anyone bathing a heavily contaminated animal should wear a mask and gloves, change their clothes after, clean any surface that gets contaminated in the process with bleach or another disinfectant, and (of course) wash their hands. Unfortunately, I suspect if you had to bath a cat covered in norovirus that you would probably end up getting infected, either from the cat or the contaminated environment. Leaving the animal covered in vomit is not a good alternative either, since it would continue to contaminate the household as well as look and smell really bad. We don’t know how long norovirus can survive on an animal’s coat, but it’s reasonable to suspect that it could survive a couple of days. Keeping the pet away from uninfected individuals for a week or so wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The easiest way to handle this is to avoid vomiting on your pets.