Scientists confirm humans can transmit COVID-19 to cats

GLASGOW, Scotland — For many people rushing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, one of the top reasons is likely so they can keep those they live with safe. For pet owners, a new study is only adding fuel to that fire. Researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered new evidence that humans can transmit the virus to cats.

A team studying two house cats with respiratory distress confirmed the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, in both. Researchers tested tissues samples for SARS‐CoV‐2 antigens as well as viral RNA to reach their conclusions. They also compared the results against 387 nasal swabs submitted for standard COVID testing during the pandemic last year.

“These findings indicate that human-to-cat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, with the infected cats displaying mild or severe respiratory disease. Given the ability of the coronavirus to infect companion animals, it will be important to monitor for human-to-cat, cat-to-cat and cat-to-human transmission,” says lead author Margaret Hosie, PhD, from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research in a media release.

The new findings are adding to growing research which finds human can pass coronavirus to their pets. From there, previous studies have discovered that infected cats can then transmit the illness to other felines.

COVID is just as dangerous to cats as it is to people

Researchers say both house cats were tested for COVID after developing mild to severe respiratory disease. Sadly, the first cat in the study (cat 1) died of their infection.

“Lung tissue collected post‐mortem from cat 1 tested positive for both SARS‐CoV‐2 nucleocapsid antigen and RNA,” study authors report.

The second cat in the study (cat 2) developed both rhinitis and conjunctivitis during their illness. Results of viral genome sequencing on cat 2’s nasal swabs revealed “five single nucleotide polymorphisms” (SNPs) which are the same as the nearest human SARS‐CoV‐2 sequence active in the United Kingdom. That human strain contains eight SNPs in comparison to the original Wuhan‐Hu‐1 sequence.

While several COVID-19 strains are currently circulating around the world, it doesn’t appear that cats have their own version yet. Further testing on cat 2 and nine other SARS‐CoV‐2 sequences from felines finds no cat‐specific mutations of coronavirus.

The study appears in the journal Veterinary Record.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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