Can your cat catch coronavirus?

Posted: by Mia Rozenbaum on 27/03/20

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Can your cat catch coronavirus?

Can your pet get COVID-19?


Dogs and cats can’t transmit COVID-19, but they can catch other coronaviruses 

The coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 has spread across the world, causing anxiety and paranoia along with it. After a dog in Hong Kong reportedly tested 'weak positive' for Covid19 coronavirus, and caused alarm among pet owners, it caused a surge in abandoned animals. Owners were giving up on their pets out of fear that they might carry and transmit the disease. As a second dog tests positive for the virus, it is important to set the record straight. Don’t abandon you dog or cat, there is no evidence that they transmit the disease. 

There is a big difference between being infected and being infectious. You are only capable of spreading the virus when you are infectious. Researchers believe that the infected dogs might have picked up the disease from a contaminated surface, and both the 17-year-old Pomeranian and the German shepherd didn’t show any symptoms. The idea that both the animals couldn’t transmit the disease was reinforced by the fact that dogs that lived in proximity to these animals weren’t infected. To make sure, a vet company tested thousands of dogs and cats for Covid-19 and so far none have tested positive for the virus.

The American Veterinary Medical Association was unequivocal, as well as infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations, such as is the OIE, the CDC and the Hong Kong animal-welfare authority. 

All agreed that, at this point in time, there is no evidence that indicates that companion animals such as cats and dogs can become ill with COVID-19 or that they spread it to other animals, including people. 

So although the virus originated from a wild animal, there is no evidence yet that points to domestic animals as active carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. However, coronaviruses of all sorts are commonly found in many animal species, including pets. And before the emergence of SARS twenty years ago, coronaviruses were mainly a veterinary concern - particularly in cats. 

As it turns out, cat owners have probably heard of coronavirus before. Cats are routinely vaccinated against a species-specific strain that can cause mild digestive issues. This cat coronavirus is present in almost all cat communities (catteries, shelters, breeder) and it is excreted by more than 60% of cats that live in groups. However, in rare cases, this common feline coronavirus infection can turn into something more troubling. In less than 1 percent of cats, there is a chance that they can develop feline infectious peritonitis or FIP, which is almost always fatal. 

FIP occurs when the virus mutates within the individual and finds a way to evade the normal immune system. Although it is not transmissible between cats, it causes quite severe symptoms. It is estimated to be responsible for the death of 1.4% of cats worldwide and is particularly difficult to control and diagnose. And just like for COVID-19, in the absence of an effective vaccine, the only therapeutic hope lies in antiviral drugs.

The answer might come from a human medicine. As it turns out, veterinarians successfully tested the safety and efficacy of a human treatment, Remdesivir (GS-5734) and a more potent close nucleoside analog (GS-441524) in cats with the feline coronavirus. Before those drugs, cats who developed the disease inevitably died within a few days, weeks or months. These safe and effective antiviral drugs have exceeded expectations and shown that the disease can be treated.

Developed originally to fight Ebola and SARS, Remdesivir is a small molecule antiviral drug that targets specific proteins involved in the replication of the RNA virus. Studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in preventing Ebola virus in rhesus monkeys and in inhibiting coronaviruses in both tissue culture models and infection in mice. It is one of the most promising treatments for emerging viruses in humans. And guess what, it is also the prime candidate to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Animal studies are already underway. We can only cross our finger that it will work as well. 

Cats have been infected by this feline coronavirus for decades now, and throughout that period, at no point in time did the virus jump into humans,  and there is no evidence that shows that that will happen in the future either. 

“The covid-19 involves only inter-human transmission of a coronavirus which comes from an animal only originally,” explains Sophie Le Poder, virology professor at the National veterinarian school of Alfort in France. “Jumping species remains a rare phenomenon. There is no need to worry about feline or canine coronaviruses. They have been around for a very, very long time and they don’t switch to other pets or to humans. It has never been documented.” 

So, please, don’t abandon your loved pets out of fear of a threat that doesn’t exist. 

Keep updated on Coronavirus news on Animal Research Information


Last edited: 28 July 2022 16:14

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