Mew frontier: Covid link to cats is bad news for pet kitties

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Mew frontier: Covid link to cats is bad news for pet kitties

Humans can give it to cats but cats can’t give it to humans, so infected people are urged to avoid feline contact

Cape Town bureau chief
Cats may be able to infect each other with Covid-19.
Whiskers away Cats may be able to infect each other with Covid-19.
Image: 123RF/Anatolii Tsekhmister

The new frontier in the war against coronavirus is ... your cat.

Cats can easily become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and may be able to pass it to other cats, say scientists in the US and Japan.

So far, there is no evidence that cats transmit the virus to humans, and no documented cases of humans catching Covid-19 from cats.

There are confirmed instances of cats becoming infected by humans, and several lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York City have tested positive for the virus.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers said: “There is a public health need to recognise and further investigate the potential chain of human-cat-human transmission.

There is no evidence that infected cats can pass Covid-19 on to humans. But humans can infect cats.
Fur warning There is no evidence that infected cats can pass Covid-19 on to humans. But humans can infect cats.
Image: 123RF/Tigran Hasparian

“This is of particular importance given the potential for SARS-CoV-2 transmission between family members in households with cats.”

A study led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, from the University of Wisconsin’s school of veterinary medicine, administered SARS-CoV-2 from a human to three cats. Two tested positive for the virus the next day, and all three within three days.

The day after the researchers administered the virus to the first three cats, they placed a virus-free cat in each of their cages. Within six days, the virus was found in nasal swabs from all the animals.

The cats showed no signs of illness and all of them stopped testing positive after six days. “That was a major finding for us – the cats did not have symptoms,” said Kawaoka.

An earlier study at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, published in Science, found cats and ferrets could become infected with and potentially transmit the virus.

Humans should worry about passing Covid-19 on to their cats, warn University of Wisconsin researchers.
Paws for thought Humans should worry about passing Covid-19 on to their cats, warn University of Wisconsin researchers.
Image: 123RF/Oleksandr Lytvynenko

“It’s something for people to keep in mind,” said Peter Halfmann, who helped lead the Wisconsin study. “If they are quarantined in their house and are worried about passing Covid-19 to children and spouses, they should also worry about giving it to their animals.”

The researchers said people with Covid-19 symptoms should avoid contact with cats. They advised owners to keep their pets indoors to limit the contact they have with other people and animals.

On April 22, the US agriculture department said two cats in two private homes in New York state had tested positive for Covid-19. They showed mild signs of respiratory illness.

Keith Poulsen, director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, said: “Cats are still much more likely to get Covid-19 from you, rather than you get it from a cat.”

Poulsen said Covid-19 tests should be aimed at “companion animals in communal residences with at-risk populations, such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. There is a delicate balance of needing more information through testing and the limited resources and clinical implications of positive tests.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued Covid-19 guidelines for pet owners.

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