Study Confirms Cats Can Become Infected with and may Transmit COVID-19 to Other Cats
Pets and COVID-19 update: A recent study in the May issue of the New England Journal of Medicine from researchers in the U.S. and Japan found that in a laboratory setting, cats can readily be infected with the COVID -19 virus and may be able to pass the virus on to other cats.
The research was led by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, from right here in Wisconsin, at the University of Wisconsin-School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison. The study involved infecting cats with the virus that had been obtained from a human with the active disease. All the cats became positive for the virus the following day. They then placed uninfected cats into the living arrangements with the infected cats. Within two days, one of the uninfected cats was determined to be positive, and within six days, all previously uninfected cats were shedding the virus.
Cat and COVID-19 Infections Not Lethal
All the cats shed the virus in nasal secretions for a period of up to 6 days. None of the infections was lethal, and in fact, none of the cats showed signs of illness. “That was a major finding for us; the cats did not have symptoms,” said Dr. Kawaoka. All of the cats eventually cleared the virus completely.
What does this tell us about pets and COVID-19? This study suggests that cats may be capable of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus when exposed to people or other cats who are positive for the virus. These findings were similar to a Chinese study and a recent “natural infection” involving large exotic cats at the Bronz Zoo in New York.
Dr. Kawaoka’s advice to anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for the virus; “they should avoid contact with cats.” It is also recommended to keep cats indoors, to limit any contact their cat could have with other people or infected cats.
Risk of Cat Bringing COVID-19 Home is Very Low
Pet owners of cats should not be alarmed or fear an infection from their cats. The risk of a cat bring COVID-19 virus home is admittedly very low, and at present, there is no evidence that cats can readily transmit the virus to humans. No documented cases in which humans have become ill with COVID-19 because of contact with cats have been noted to date. Humans remain the most significant risk to other humans with regards to virus transmission.
There is on-going research through the University of Wisconsin – School of Veterinary Medicine, Shelter Medicine program, looking at testing shelter cats that had been previously exposed to human COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Sandra Newberry, the director of this study, noted that to date of the 22 animals tested, none had had a positive test for the virus.
The takeaway from this recent study on pets and COVID-19 is that cats are still much more likely to get COVID from you (the pet owner), rather than get it from them. It is not recommended that cats be widely screened/tested for the presence of the virus.
Stay informed and stay well.