LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – At the start of the pandemic, University of Nebraska-Lincoln veterinarians said that pets, like dogs, made up the most animals that tested positive for COVID-19.
Recently, most positive cases have been seen in cats, especially larger ones in zoos.
“Cats and cats in general – even the domestic cats, the big cats – all have the same receptor that humans attach the COVID or coronavirus to,” said Dr. Kelly Heath, director and attending vet of the UNL Animal Care Program.
Lincoln Children’s Zoo announced on Friday that three snow leopards had died within a month of being diagnosed with the virus. Both Sumatran tigers tested positive and have since recovered, and two tigers at the Omaha Zoo tested positive last week.
According to veterinarians, the virus attaches itself to the proteins of cat cells differently than other animal species.
“I suspect, especially in animals that get very sick, that the bond is stronger or that there are more of these receptors on these cells that make this possible,” said Dr. Bruce Brodersen, Director of the UNL’s Veterinarian Diagnostic Center.
Dr. Brodersen said COVID-19 tests in animals have increased since the early stages of the pandemic. The National Veterinary Service laboratory has tested 7,000 animals in the United States and confirmed over 300 positive, or about 4%, with the majority of them being large and small cats.
While cats were found to be more affected by COVID-19, veterinarians said their symptoms were generally the same as those of other animals and humans.
“They’re usually a little lethargic and may not want to eat,” said Dr. Heath. “You might have a fever. They can show symptoms of a respiratory infection such as coughing and sneezing. “
Zoetis, a global animal health company, has partnered with various zoos to provide vaccines for animals. UNL vets said it was too early to say if it should be widely available. However, they encourage the animals most susceptible to receive the vaccine as extra protection.
Veterinarians also said that cat owners should avoid close contact with their pet if they feel sick or test positive for the virus.
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