Nearly 70 per cent of cats in homes with COVID tested positive for antibodies, U of G study finds

Cats that tested positive for COVID antibodies had severe symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and a runny nose, while dogs had mild symptoms

At the start of the pandemic, public health organizations around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believed that COVID was a human disease and that the risk to animals was low.

A recent study from the University of Guelph says otherwise.

According to a study conducted by professors at the U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College, not only can animals get COVID, they are also at high risk of contracting the disease from humans. The study suggests that people with COVID often pass the disease on to their pets, and cats that sleep on their owners’ beds are at particular risk.

“First of all, the infection comes from animals, it is zoonotic and has been transmitted to humans. Second, most infections have multiple hosts and are not specific in just one way, ”said Bienzle.

Last year, Dr. Dorothee Bienzle, Professor of Veterinary Pathology at the OVC, and Dr. Infectious Disease Specialist Scott Weese to investigate how susceptible pets are to infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans. For the purposes of their study, they specifically focused on dogs and cats.

They adapted a pet PCR test and later built pet antibody tests to see if an animal was infected with COVID. Over a period of 12 months, the couple collected blood samples from 48 cats and 54 dogs from 77 households.

“We identified 67 percent of the cats who have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 if the cat came from a household of someone with COVID-19, and we identified 43 percent of the dogs who also had antibodies,” said Bienzle .

The owners of the pets were asked to share information about the pets’ lifestyle, such as: For example, how often do they go out, how often do owners kiss and share a bed with their pets, and how many hours they spend with their pets each day.

“The time an owner spent with a cat when the owner was sick had a positive predictor of when the cat is likely to test positive for antibodies,” said Bienzle.

“This means that people, especially if they slept with a cat or if their cat spent between 19 and 24 hours a day with the owner, were much more likely to get the cat too.”

Bienzle said infection looks different in cats than it does in dogs. She said while dogs are less likely to get an infection and have mild symptoms such as loss of appetite, cats developed severe symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and a runny nose in addition to loss of appetite.

She believes the Delta variant will behave similarly to previous variants and that if humans are susceptible to the virus, so will pets.

She also points out that there have been outbreaks in animals in zoos around the world, such as the Amur leopard outbreak in San Diego. said Bienzle.

“The bottom line is that a person who has COVID should assume that their pet is at high risk of developing COVID as well. So if you live with an animal, you should of course stay away from other people and you should also stay away from your pets when they are sick, ”said Bienzle, adding that the pets should also be quarantined.

The study by Bienzle and Weese is in the final phase and will be published soon. Your results will be presented at the conference European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases.

Funding for this research was provided by the U of G COVID-19 Research Development and Catalyst Fund, the OVC, the Department of Pathobiology, and the Ontario Animal Health Network.