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Cats can contract the novel coronavirus

April 03, 2020 | 14:44

Chinese researchers recently claim that cats are susceptible to the coronavirus and can transmit the novel virus to other cats through respiratory droplets, while the infection risks are lower in dogs.  The Harbin Veterinary Research Institute team also concludes that chickens, pigs and ducks are not likely to catch the virus.

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Cats are more susceptible to coronavirus than dogs (Photo: Nature)

Scientists say the findings are interesting, but that cat-owners should not be alarmed just yet. The results are based on lab experiments in which a small number of animals were deliberately infected with high doses of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and do not represent real-life interactions between people and their pets, says virologist Linda Saif at The Ohio State University in Columbus. There is no direct evidence that the infected cats secreted enough coronavirus to infect people, she says.

The findings followed recent reports of a pet cat in Belgium being infected with Covid-19. About a week after the cat’s owner started showing symptoms, the cat also developed breathing difficulties, diarrhoea and vomiting, and subsequent tests by vets at the University of Liège showed the animal was infected with coronavirus.

The work, which is not yet peer-reviewed, was uploaded to the preprint website bioRxiv on Wednesday. In the study, five cats were inoculated with coronavirus. Three of the animals were placed in cages next to cats that had not been given the virus, and one of the exposed cats also became infected, suggesting that transmission occurred through respiratory droplets. The findings were then replicated in a second group of cats. Ferrets, which are already being used in vaccine trials for Covid-19, were also found to be susceptible.

“Surveillance for Sars-CoV-2 in cats should be considered as an adjunct to elimination of of Covid-19 in humans,” the paper concluded.

Experts said the findings were credible, but that they did not indicate cats were an important vector in spreading the disease between humans.

Prof Eric Fèvre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool, said: “People should take usual precautions of handwashing when handling their pets, and avoid overly intimate contact, especially if sick with Covid. It is important to add that this says nothing about how the virus coming out of a cat may or may not be infectious to humans.”

Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, said similar observations of transmission in cats had been made in relation to Sars, which is genetically closely related to Covid-19. “However, it should be remembered that cats are not playing much, if any, role in the spread of this virus,” he said. “Human to human transmission is clearly the main driver, so there is no need to panic about cats as an important source of virus. Obviously, if you think you have Covid-19 and share a house with a cat, then it would be sensible to limit close interactions with your furry friend until you are better.”

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Guardian/ Scientific American