The U.S. has confirmed the first cases of coronavirus in companion animals after two pet cats tested positive in New York state, officials with the Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Wednesday.
Officials said the cats had mild respiratory symptoms and are believed to have contracted the virus from people in their homes or neighborhoods, The Associated Press reported. The two cats live in different parts of the state, and officials said they would not disclose any further information about their locations.
One of the two lived with a person who had a brief respiratory illness about a week before, although the person has yet to test positive, and the cat also occasionally goes outside, officials said. The second cat’s owner has tested positive for the virus. The owner also has a second cat who has not shown any symptoms.
While the cats are the first known pets to test positive in the U.S., a handful of tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo have tested positive for the virus.
While the virus appears to be transmissible from humans to animals, scientists say they have thus far not seen evidence indicating animals can pass it on to people. Scientists in Hong Kong drew similar conclusions after a dog tested positive earlier this year.
“We don’t want people to panic. We don’t want people to be afraid of pets,” said Casey Barton Behravesh, a CDC official who works on human-animal health connections, adding that people should not rush to get their pets tested. “There’s no evidence that pets are playing a role in spreading this disease to people.”
With limited coronavirus testing available, it is only recommended that pets are tested in cases where they are known to have had contact with an infected individual, the pet is displaying symptoms and other possibilities with similar symptoms have been ruled out, Jane Rooney of the Agriculture Department told the AP.
Officials recommend any pet owners with the virus avoid close contact and wear masks while caring for them.