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Cats can get coronavirus and pass it to other cats; dogs are much less susceptible to the virus: study

April 2, 2020

Cats are susceptible to contracting the novel coronavirus, a preliminary study in China found.

The researchers concluded that cats also can pass the coronavirus to other cats via “respiratory droplets.” This was determined by placing uninfected cats in enclosures adjacent to cages holding infected cats and closely monitoring their interactions.

While the study showed that cats are receptive to the coronavirus, the Chinese scientists found that the virus “replicates poorly” in dogs, concluding that canines have “low susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2.” There have been reports of a couple of dogs in Hong Kong testing positive for low levels of coronavirus.

The team at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences’ veterinary research lab undertook the work, the study states, because “cats and dogs are in close contact with humans, and therefore it is important to understand their susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 for COVID-19 control.” The research was performed under high-level biosafety conditions, with the scientists wearing full-body pressurized suits.

In the study, the infected cats did not show symptoms of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and not all of the uninfected cats ended up being infected through respiratory droplets from other animals. How cats respond to Covid-19 has not been studied. The Guardian reports that one domestic cat in Belgium “developed breathing difficulties, diarrhea and vomiting” shortly before testing positive for the disease.

The Chinese study, which hasn’t yet undergone peer review, did not test whether cats are able to infect humans. There is no evidence that cats are playing any role in the spread of the illness among humans. Ohio State University veterinary professor Linda Saif pointed out in Nature magazine that the cats in the study were given especially high doses of the virus and “do not represent real-life interactions between people and their pets.”

It is recommended, however, that if a person is showing Covid-19 symptoms, he or she should be isolated from other people in the household as much as possible, and that all pets also should be kept out of the ill person’s room.

The Chinese study determined that coronavirus also reproduces “efficiently” in ferrets, but that, like dogs, chickens, ducks and pigs have low susceptibility to the virus.

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