Research to better understand SARS-CoV-2 continues, and a new study sheds light on the likelihood of our pets becoming infected – especially that cats are more susceptible to the virus that causes COVID-19.
Scientists analyzed blood serum from a total of 239 domestic cats and 510 domestic dogs, which were collected between mid-April and mid-June 2020, to look for antibodies that would indicate a previous infection with SARS-CoV-2.
The results showed that 8 percent of the cats but less than 1 percent of the dogs became infected with COVID-19, suggesting that the virus can be transmitted between species and that cats are more likely to catch and infect it than dogs .
“Since pets can be the source of a number of infectious diseases, determining how susceptible the two most popular pet species in the United States are to SARS-CoV-2 – and how common the disease can be among them – could have significant health implications of humans and animals, “says the molecular biologist Hinh Ly of the University of Minnesota.
The results are only part of a bigger picture researchers are putting together regarding animals and COVID-19. While we know that pets can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the likelihood of them getting sick seems slim.
“I’m still a bit surprised that cats become infected so easily and yet rarely show signs of disease,” said Colorado State University biomedical researcher Angela Bosco-Lauth, who was not involved in the new study, told New York Times.
It also appears unlikely that animals can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to humans; On the flip side, we can likely pass the virus on to our pets when we’re around them – so cuddling your cat or dog if you are unwell with COVID-19 is not a good idea.
In this new study, researchers were unable to examine in detail why cats are more prone to infection than dogs. The ACE2 protein in cats – which is more similar to the human ACE2 protein than that of the dog – acts as a receptor for the coronavirus and could be one of the reasons.
The blood serum used in this study was collected anonymously, so the researchers were unable to investigate factors such as whether the animals lived primarily outdoors or indoors, or whether there was evidence of pet transmission.
The team is currently working on a follow-up study for the final months of 2020 when the number of human COVID-19 cases in the region was much higher. That should give us more useful data on how SARS-CoV-2 can spread and how it could be better contained in the future.
“The results will help clarify the prevalence of cross-species transmission of this coronavirus in pets and their owners,” says molecular virologist Yuying Liang of the University of Minnesota.
The research was published in Virulence.