Story at a glance
- New data suggests humans are more likely to transmit the coronavirus to household animals than animals to humans.
- The case study featured two separate cats from homes in New York state.
New data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that while there are documented cases of humans spreading the coronavirus to their pets, there is limited evidence to suggest domesticated animals can spread the virus to humans.
The coronavirus is confirmed to be a zoonotic virus that likely originated in bats in Asia. Following coverage of the pandemic, some animals including dogs, cats, lions and tigers in zoos, and farmed mink, were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. Despite the disease having originally transmitted from animals to humans, most of the cases in animals are suspected to have been transmitted from humans.
The CDC and Department of Agriculture studied cases of two domestic cats with a confirmed coronavirus infection as the first reported animals to contract the virus in the United States. The cats live in separate households, both in New York counties.
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Both cats, identified as a male and female Devon Rex species, developed respiratory illness symptoms including sneezing, ocular discharge, mild lethargy, loss of appetite and lethargy. Notably, one of the cats, the first to be infected, was overweight.
The first cat to be infected lived in an apartment unit with five people, three of whom had shown signs of a mild respiratory illness and symptoms including fever, cough and sweating. None of the people who lived with the infected cat were tested for the virus.
The second cat lived with one person who was confirmed to have COVID-19. When tested, the CDC confirmed that the two cats had tested positive for COVID-19 based on first specimen collections, gathered in early April.
Both cats eventually recovered from their illness. The first cat was given an antibiotic, while the second cat recovered without treatment.
The timeline outlined by the CDC indicates that the first cat had contracted the virus within approximately 10 days of the co-habitating humans’ onset symptoms. The second cat appeared to have contracted the virus within three days of its owner’s symptom exhibition.
The findings confirm the possibility of human-to-animal transmission of the coronavirus, but researchers highlight that animals are not known to play a substantive role in the virus's spread. Additionally, recent experiments with ferrets, golden Syrian hamsters, Egyptian fruit bats and cats show that these species can transmit a COVID-19 infection to co-housed animals of the same species — meaning cats can infect fellow cats, and hamsters can infect co-habitating hamsters.
“Most cases of pets infected with SARS-CoV-2 worldwide occurred after close contact with people with COVID-19, so it appears that people can spread the virus to animals in some situations,” a CDC spokesperson said. “We’re still learning about the virus that causes COVID-19, but based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.”
The CDC recommends that people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 restrict contact with animals during their illness, and that domesticated pets with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection be monitored and isolated.
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