New research by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute suggests that cats (and ferrets) can harbor and transmit the COVID-19 disease-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus However, the same virus cannot reproduce well or infect us from dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks.
“…SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks, but (replicates) efficiently in ferrets and cats. …the virus transmits in cats via respiratory droplets,” notes the paper published on March 31.
The researchers explored the COVID-19 susceptibility of these animals both to determine whether common domestic animals might serve as reservoirs of disease and which animals had similar susceptibility to COVID-19 as humans and thus might serve as models for the development of vaccines.
Ferrets are commonly used as an animal model for other respiratory viruses that infect humans. So their susceptibility to COVID-19 was not surprising. In tests with cats, researchers demonstrated that the virus was rapidly transmitted from an infected cat to a non-infected cat, and entered the new host when the healthy cat inhaled what was likely sneezes and cough from the first, intentionally infected feline. So the cat can possibly transmit the virus to a human as well.
On April 5, the Bronx Zoo in New York City reported that Nadia, a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger had tested positive for COVID-19. She, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions had developed a dry cough and all are expected to recover.
This positive COVID-19 test for the tiger was confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory, based in Ames, Iowa.
The zoo has noted that despite some decrease in appetite, the cats are recovering well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers.
The zoo reports that the cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms.
“Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats,” according to a zoo press release.
What does this mean for you and your cat? Or ferret, if you have one?
Advice from local veterinarians suggests that socially isolating your cat along with you is a reasonable thing to do. Not only will Fluffy be safer from SARS-CoVid-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19) but keeping your cat indoors will save additional lives—those of birds that, with the spring snowfall, will be foraging for hard-to-find food.
Dr. Randy Greenshields of Double Arrow Veterinary Clinic said “According to this study, it looks like cats and ferrets not only can harbor the COVID-19 virus, but it also replicates in them as well. With viral replication in cats and ferrets, if these animals are infected with the COVID-19 virus, they can potentially transmit the virus to humans through respiratory droplets (such as a cough or sneeze). This study also indicates that the virus seems to replicate poorly in dogs and they are unlikely to transmit the virus to other animals or people.”
Out of an abundance of caution, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is recommending that people ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. So, if you test positive for COVID-19, have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.