Cat owners may want to be more cautious about their pets contact, as a study from China has revealed that Covid-19 can be transmitted between cats.
The study, in China’s Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, found that cats are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and seem to be able to spread the virus to other cats by respiratory droplets. But it was noted that dogs, goats, pigs and ducks are unable to contract the virus.
The results also followed previous records of Covid-19 contaminated by a pet cat in Belgium. About a week after the cat’s owner started to exhibit symptoms, the pet soon experienced respiratory problems, diarrhoea and diarrhea, and subsequent medical examinations at the University of Liège confirmed the patient had coronavirus infection.
The Chinese team’s laboratory studies involved a limited number of animals who obtained a large dose of the virus and there is no clear proof that cats could even infect humans. Nevertheless, the team behind the study said their results gave valuable insights into Covid-19’s animal reserves, and how animal conservation could play a role in pandemic prevention.
“Surveillance in cats for Sars-CoV-2 should be seen as an adjunct to the elimination of Covid-19 in humans,” the paper concluded.
The work, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was uploaded Wednesday to the bioRxiv preprint website. Five cats had been inoculated with coronavirus in the sample. Two of the animals were put in cages adjacent to cats that had not been diagnosed with the infection, and one of the exposed cats was also affected, meaning transmission occurred by respiratory droplets. They then repeated the results in a second group of animals. Ferrets previously used in Covid-19 vaccine trials have also been shown to be sensitive.
Experts said the results were plausible, but did not suggest that cats were an significant conduit for the transmission of the disease among humans.
Prof. Eric Fèvre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool, said: “Customary hand washing measures should be taken while treating their dogs, and excessive close contact should be avoided, particularly if they are sick with Covid. It’s important to note that this means little on whether the virus that comes from a cat may or may not be transmitted to humans.
“Prof. Jonathan Ball, a virologist at Nottingham University, said similar transmission findings in cats have been made in regard to Sars, which is genetically closely related to Covid-19. “It should be remembered, however, that cats do not play a great, if any, role in spreading this virus,” he said.
“Clearly human-to-human communication is the key force, so there’s no reason to worry around cats as an significant virus vector. Obviously, if you believe you’ve got Covid-19 and sharing a house with a cat, then restricting close encounters with your furry companion would be wise before you’re stronger.