Humans can pass COVID-19 to their cats, study finds

Photo (c) Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman - Getty Images

Two cats from two different households contracted the virus after being exposed to it by their owners

Researchers at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom have found that people can pass COVID-19 to their cats. In a study involving two cats of different breeds living in separate households, both cats contracted the virus after their owners exposed them to it. 

"We identified two cats that tested positive," said lead author Margaret Hosie, Ph.D., of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. "Both of them were from suspected COVID-19 households."

One of the cats exhibited mild COVID-19 symptoms and survived, but the other cat -- a four-month old Ragdoll kitten -- developed breathing difficulties and had to be put down. 

"These findings indicate that human-to-cat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, with the infected cats displaying mild or severe respiratory disease,” Hosie said.

Monitoring routes of transmission

Although there is currently no evidence of cat-to-human COVID-19 transmission, Hosie said "we cannot rule out the possibility that the virus could be transmitted from cats to humans." 

She added that finding out if domestic cats can pass the virus to people will be difficult, "as we could never expose an uninfected person to an infected cat to determine whether cat-to-human transmission would occur."

At this time, scientists do not believe that cats or other domestic animals play a major role in the pandemic when it comes to transmission rates. However, previous research has found that cats can pass the virus to other cats.

The U.K. researchers said it will be “important to monitor for human-to-cat, cat-to-cat and cat-to-human transmission." Hosie and her colleagues said companion animals could possibly act as a “viral reservoir,” so it will be important to look into different routes of transmission to better understand the risks. 

The CDC has acknowledged that a “small number” of pets have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. The agency advises owners to treat pets “as you would other human family members” during the pandemic. 

“Do not let pets interact with people outside the household,” the CDC said. “If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets.” 

The CDC added that masks should not be put on pets because it could harm them.  

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