Note for Pet Owners:

This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Cowpox virus can be transmitted to humans, and so this disease is a zoonosis. Proper hygienic precautions such as washing hands thoroughly should be taken after contact with animals which could be carrying the disease, especially children and people with impaired immune function. Gloves must be worn when handling infected animals.

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The contagious virus responsible for Cowpox in cattle can also affect other species including humans, small wild mammals and cats. There is only one reported case of cowpox affecting a dog. Signs of the disease include skin lesions (nodules, scabs and ulcers), eye problems (conjunctivitis)  and respiratory signs (pneumonia). Cowpox in cats occurs mainly in Europe and Asia.

e cause of Cowpox is an orthopoxvirus. It is transmitted through a bite or skin wound and usually causes skin lesions, although respiratory and ocular signs may occur following viraemia. Cats are usually infected having caught infected rodents but direct transmission from cat  to cat, or human to human can occur. In cattle transmission is via milkers hands or teat clusters on automated milking machines.

The virus is resistant in the environment surviving many months under dry conditions.

Breed Occurrence
Dairy cattle are at greater risk than others.

In cats there is no breed predisposition to infection, but predators (eg cats)  that catch infected small wild animals (especially gerbils, ground squirrels, voles, wood mice) which act as a reservoir for the disease are at greater risk of contracting the disease.


 Typical signs of cowpox virus infection include :

Human Cowpox is rare (1-2 cases are reported per year in the UK). Cats are thought to be a main source of infection but direct contact with infected cattle is also a common source of infection.  Signs in humans are most likely to occur in people with poor immunity or pre-existing skin disease and they include :

Secondary bacterial infections can occur, and viraemia causes generalised disease.

Diagnosis can be made by :

  • Isolating Cowpox virus from scabs collected from skin lesions.
  • Measuring blood antibodies (fluorescent antibody test)


Most cats and cattle recover without treatment.

  • There is no specific treatment for Cowpox virus, and no vaccine.
  • Antibiotics may help to control secondary bacterial infections. 
  • The environment should be disinfected with hypochlorite solution (bleach)


In cattle the prognosis is good because it produces a mild, localised infection in most individuals

Good in cats with skin lesions and no viraemia, but poor if severely affected and pneumonia develops.


Updated January 2016