Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2019, people have had lots of questions about the pandemic’s impact on their lives. Beyond questions about the risks of catching the virus and its effect on their health, many people have wanted to know more about the wider implications of the pandemic. Pet owners have wondered if it is possible for their cats and dogs to catch the virus from each other or if it is possible to pass from humans to other species. Until now, expert opinion over the subject has differed, and various groups began to research the possibility of animals catching the virus. Now, researchers in the UK believe that it is possible for humans to pass on COVID-19 to their cats following studies that have taken place throughout the pandemic.
The UK Research
According to WebMD, a study in the UK has found that humans can pass on the virus to felines. The findings of the study are based on in-depth genetic analyses. Margaret Hosie is the lead author of the study, and she is a professor of comparative virology based at the MRC University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. Hosie said the research revealed two cats that tested positive for the virus, both of which lived in households with suspected cases of COVID-19 in the same region. One of the cats with a positive test result was a six-year-old Siamese cat. Two of the noticeable symptoms from which the cat was suffering were eye and nasal discharge. The researchers took swab samples from the affected areas in May 2020, and they also tested for respiratory infection. The samples were then taken for genetic sequencing, and the results were similar to those of the sequences of people infected with the COVID-19 virus. A four-month-old Ragdoll kitten was the second case of a cat with symptoms of COVID-19. Sadly, the kitten died in April 2020 after suffering from a severe respiratory illness. The researchers conducted a post-mortem examination of the cat, and the results revealed that the kitten had contracted COVID-19.
Is Human-to-Cat Transmission Common?
After reading this, you might wonder how common human-to-cat transmission is and if it means your cat is at risk. Dorothee Bienzele is a professor of veterinary pathology at Ontario’s University of Guelph. According to Bienzele, transmission is fairly common. However, she stresses that the pet’s proximity to a human carrying COVID-19 can make a significant difference. Another question you may wonder is whether your cat is likely to suffer serious illness if COVID-19 is transmitted from a human. Keith Poulsen, the director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, says that clinical disease in domesticated pets with COVID-19 is rare.
Poulsen states that his department does not test all their animals. However, they have collaborated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/) on studies. The data shows that there is a significant risk of domesticated pets living in households with COVID-19 becoming infected. However, the risks of these pets displaying clinical signs of the virus or needing treatment from a vet are low. Poulsen also says that there are differences between the species, and the only animals that stood out as being high risk for developing clinical symptoms were mink and ferrets.
Can Cats Pass COVID-19 to Humans?
Learning that humans can pass on the virus to cats may lead people to question whether it works the other way and that cats can infect humans. Hosie says that this is a possibility that scientists cannot currently rule out. She also says that it is difficult to answer conclusively, primarily because they cannot expose an uninfected human to an infected cat to test if transmission occurs. While scientists cannot test to prove the theory, nor can they disprove the theory and rule out the possibility of cats transmitting COVID-19 to humans. However, in Poulsen’s opinion, it is not something causing huge concerns. Although they are unable to test the possibility of animal-to-human transmission, the researchers have collected data about animals and humans in COVID-19 households. The evidence does not suggest that domestic animals play a significant role in transmitting the virus to humans. However, although the risk is low, it does not mean that there is no risk at all.
What About Dogs?
If cats can carry COVID-19, then what about the risks for dogs? It is a question that many dog owners are asking. The researchers have also been looking into whether dogs are likely to catch COVID-19 from humans or if they can transmit the virus. Poulsen and Hosie both agree that dogs are at lesser risk than cats of being vulnerable to coronavirus transmitted from humans. While it is possible for them to become infected, the evidence shows that there is less risk for dogs than cats. The research also shows that cats replicate the virus at a greater rate than dogs.
Monitoring the Situation
Studies into inter-species transmission rates are ongoing. At the moment, scientists believe that neither cats nor dogs play a significant role in the disease ecology of COVID-19. According to current data, the rates of cat-to-cat, cat-to-human, and human-to-cat transmission rates are low, and feline carriers of the virus are unlikely to show symptoms. On the other hand, research into this subject remains limited, and it is important that the researchers continue to continue with their research and to monitor the situation. COVID-19 is a continuously evolving virus, which means that the rates of inter-species transmission may also change. Those involved in these studies stress that pet owners should not worry too much about either catching the virus from their pet or transmitting COVID-19 from themselves to their pet. There is currently no evidence to suggest that cat owners who usually allow their cats to go outdoors should keep their pets inside and prevent them from mixing with other domesticated animals.