In a new study, researchers found that in the laboratory, cats can readily become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and may be able to pass the virus to other cats.
The research was conducted by scientists in the U.S. and Japan.
The researchers administered to three cats SARS-CoV-2 isolated from a human patient.
The following day, the researchers swabbed the nasal passages of the cats and were able to detect the virus in two of the animals. Within three days, they detected the virus in all of the cats.
The day after the researchers administered a virus to the first three cats, they placed another cat in each of their cages.
Researchers did not administer the SARS-CoV-2 virus to these cats.
Each day, the researchers took nasal and rectal swabs from all six cats to assess them for the presence of the virus.
Within two days, one of the previously uninfected cats was shedding virus, detected in the nasal swab, and within six days, all of the cats were shedding virus. None of the rectal swabs contained the virus.
Each cat shed SARS-CoV-2 from their nasal passages for up to six days. The virus was not lethal and none of the cats showed signs of illness. All of the cats ultimately cleared the virus.
The findings suggest cats may be capable of becoming infected with the virus when exposed to people or other cats positive for SARS-CoV-2.
It follows a study published in Science by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences that also showed cats (and ferrets) could become infected with and potentially transmit the virus.
The virus is known to be transmitted in humans through contact with respiratory droplets and saliva.
The team says if people are quarantined in their house and are worried about passing COVID-19 to children and spouses, they should also worry about giving it to their animals.
They advise that people with symptoms of COVID-19 avoid contact with cats. They also advise cat owners to keep their pets indoors, in order to limit the contact their cats have with other people and animals.
The team also offers the following advice:
If your pet lives indoors with you and is not in contact with any COVID-19 positive individual, it is safe to pet, cuddle, and interact with your pet.
If you are COVID-19 positive, you should limit interactions with your pets to protect them from exposure to the virus.
Additional guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 is available from the American Veterinary Medical Association and CDC, including in this FAQ from AVMA.
One author of the study is Professor of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine Yoshihiro Kawaoka.
The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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