Scientists in the UK have found evidence that people infected with SARS-CoV-2, which causes the coronavirus, can transmit it to cats. Researchers at the University of Glasgow, when screening the country’s cat population, identified two such cases of cats contracted the virus from their infected owners.
The cats in the study did not live in the same household or were of the same breed. Both developed mild to severe respiratory symptoms not long after their owners developed symptoms as well.
One cat, a ragdoll kitten, was euthanized after its condition worsened. An examination of the cat’s post-mortem lungs found damage compatible with viral pneumonia and SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Another cat, a 6-year-old Siamese, also developed symptoms of the novel virus after its owner tested positive. This cat had only mild symptoms of nasal discharge and conjunctivitis and later recovered.
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The study, published Thursday on the Veterinary Record, confirms existing evidence that humans can pass the novel disease on to cats. Separate studies have also shown that dogs can get the virus from their owners too. There have also been cases of exotic animals such as tigers and otters infected with the virus, likely infected by infected human carers in zoos.
Although researchers have said animals do not play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans, the study’s lead author emphasized the importance of further research on the subject.
“These two cases of human-to-animal transmission in the UK cat population show why it is important that we improve our understanding of animal Sars-CoV-2 infection,” said Professor Margaret Hosie of the University of Glasgow Center for Virus Research , according to the Guardian. “Currently, animal-to-human transmission poses a relatively low risk to public health in areas where human-to-human transmission remains high. However, as human incidence decreases, the prospect of animal-to-animal transmission becomes a potential source of increasingly important reintroduction of Sars-CoV-2 in humans.
‘It is therefore important to improve our understanding of whether exposed animals could play a role in transmission,’ she added.
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Indeed, “These results suggest that human-to-cat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurred during the UK’s COVID-19 pandemic, with the infected cats developing mild or severe respiratory disease. Given the infectious ability of the new coronavirus in various species, it will be important to monitor human-to-cat, cat-to-cat, and cat-to-human transmission, ”the study’s authors concluded.
Given the growing body of evidence that humans can infect pets with the novel virus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a video in June teaching infected owners how to protect their furry friends from COVID-19.