Household cats are more susceptible to coronavirus infection than dogs in early-pandemic Minnesota

A study by the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine published in the journal Virulence found that domestic cats were more susceptible to natural infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, at the start of the Minnesota pandemic.

The researchers examined samples of archived blood serum – collected from 239 cats and 510 dogs brought to the university’s veterinary center for routine diagnostic testing between mid-April and mid-June 2020 – and checked for signs of SARS-CoV-2 exposure.

“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, ”said Hinh Ly, co-author and professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.

The researchers developed two new serological tests to look for antibodies as evidence of previous exposure to the virus. They found that 8 percent of the cats and less than 1 percent of the dogs tested positive for the antibodies. When the tests were sensitive, they were able to accurately detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, unlike other common coronaviruses known to infect pets.

The team is currently conducting a similar follow-up study for the final months of 2020 when the positivity rate of human COVID-19 cases in Minnesota was near its peak. The results, pending publication, show that the companion animals are susceptible to natural SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“The results will help clarify the prevalence of cross-species transmission of this coronavirus in pets and their owners,” said Yuying Liang, co-author of the study and professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.

This research was funded in part by the University’s Office of Academic and Clinical Affairs through the COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant program.

About the University of Veterinary Medicine
The University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine influences the lives of animals and humans every day through education, research, service, and outreach programs. Founded in 1947, the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is Minnesota’s only veterinary college. The college is fully accredited and has trained nearly 4,000 veterinarians and hundreds of scientists. The college is also home to the Veterinary Medical Center, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Leatherdale Equine Center, and the Raptor Center. To learn more, visit vetmed.umn.edu.