Coronavirus: Cats highly susceptible to infection, study finds

There is no evidence to suggest cats can spread the infection to humans

Matt Mathers
Friday 03 April 2020 16:05 BST
Cats highly susceptible to coronavirus
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Coronavirus can be transmitted between cats, a study has confirmed, days after reports that a pet in Belgium had been infected with the disease.

Researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China found the animals are highly susceptible to the infection.

Lab experiments conducted on a small number of cats found they can transmit the illness to one another through respiratory droplets.

It came just six days after health officials in Belgium confirmed a domestic cat had contracted Covid-19 after its owner had displayed symptoms.

There is no evidence to suggest that cats can pass Covid-19 onto humans.

The study also found that dogs, chicken, pigs and ducks were found unlikely to harbour or pass on Covid-19.

“The cats we used in this study were [...] were highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 , which replicated efficiently and transmitted to naïve cats,” the study states.

“Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in cats should be considered as an adjunct to elimination of of COVID-19 in humans.”

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed although experts said the findings were credible.

Researchers conducting the study administered a high dose of the virus to a small number of cats.

Three of the animals were put in cages next to cats that had not been infected, with one of the exposed cats becoming infected, suggesting transmission occurs through respiratory droplets.

The process was then repeated with a second group of cats.

Virologists and infectious disease experts told The Guardian the findings did not show that cats could spread Covid-19 to humans.

However, two professors did encourage cat owners to take extra precautions when near the animals and highlighted the importance of hand washing.

Prof Eric Fèvre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool, said: “People should take usual precautions of hand washing when handling their pets, and avoid overly intimate contact, especially if sick with Covid.

“It is important to add that this says nothing about how the virus coming out of a cat may or may not be infectious to humans.”

Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, added: “[...] It should be remembered that cats are not playing much, if any, role in the spread of this virus.

“Human to human transmission is clearly the main driver, so there is no need to panic about cats as an important source of virus.

“Obviously, if you think you have Covid-19 and share a house with a cat, then it would be sensible to limit close interactions with your furry friend until you are better.”

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