May 14, 2020
Humans can infect cats with the coronavirus, and those cats can transmit the virus to other cats. But the question remains, can felines infect their owners?
Researchers studying the virus recently isolated SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – from a human patient and then administered the strain to three healthy cats. Within three days all of the cats tested positive for the coronavirus.
Three new cats were added to the experiment. Researchers placed each cat negative for the virus into a cage with one of the infected feline. Within two days, one of the uninfected cats tested positive, and within six days, the two other cats also tested positive.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirm that cats are susceptible to contracting the coronavirus from humans and other animals. But it is unclear whether a cat with the coronavirus can transmit it to a person.
The cats did not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, which could make them a "silent intermediate host," the study's authors said, which makes it important the conduct more research about the transmissibility from cats to humans.
The researchers said it's unlikely cats pose much risk to people and there have been no documented cases of a person being sickened by a cat. Humans positive for the coronavirus remain the biggest threat to other humans, scientists say.
There have been instances where cats — big and small— have become infected from being in close contact with other humans. In April, four tigers and three lions tested positive for the coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has confirmed two pet cats in New York tested positive for the virus after their owner became sick.
"It's something for people to keep in mind," researcher Peter Halfmann said. "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."
People who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 should avoid contact with their feline friends, the study authors said. Cats should also be kept indoors in order to limit any contact they may have with other people and cats – yes, cats need to social distance, too.