Study reveals that cats can transmit the new coronavirus via respiratory droplets but dogs are non-vulnerable, prompting the World Health Organization to investigate the role of pets in the COVID-19 crisis and check if household feline can contract or transmit the virus to their owners.
The study is published in the journal Science as “Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS–coronavirus 2.”
The study was conducted to identify animals that are vulnerable to novel coronavirus so they can be used for testing of experimental vaccines to battle against the pandemic. The study found that ferrets can also transmit this virus. However, dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks are not susceptible to the coronavirus.
The novel coronavirus is believed to transmit from bats to humans. Few infections are reported in cats but still, there has not been any strong evidence that feline can be carriers. A tiger at the Bronx Zoo developed a dry cough and reportedly loss of appetite after contact with the infected keeper has tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday.
The recent study found that ferrets and cats are highly susceptible to the coronavirus when a team of researchers tried to infect the animals with the virus by introducing viral particles via the nose. Researchers found that cats can also infect each other through respiratory droplets. Cats that were infected had the virus in nose, mouth and small intestine. Kittens exposed to that virus had lesions in their nose, throat and lungs.
The study authors said that surveillance for the coronavirus in cats must be considered as a complement to the elimination of the novel coronavirus in humans.
In ferrets, SARS-CoV-2 was found in the upper respiratory tract but it didn’t cause severe infection. Rapid antibody tests showed that dogs appear not to be vulnerable and were less susceptible. Chickens, pigs and ducks were also not found to contain any viral strain.
The WHO is also working with its partners to investigate the role of pets in the transmission of the coronavirus. The WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said that they don’t believe in the role of pets in virus transmission but they may get infected from the infected person.
One of the top emergency experts of the WHO, Mike Ryan advised people not to retaliate against pets over COVID-19. He said that animals deserve to be treated with respect and kindness as they are also the victims like us.
These findings come after four different pets being infected with the virus including a cat in Belgium and two dogs in Hong Kong. Another cat was also tested positive for coronavirus after its keeper become ill. In all these four cases, the animals are believed to have caught the coronavirus form their owners.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that there is no strong evidence that suggests that pets are able to transmit the novel coronavirus. The study was conducted by Jiazhong Shi and his colleagues at the State Key Laboratory of Veterinary and Biotechnology, China.
The researchers said that dogs and cats are in close contact with humans so it is important to investigate their susceptibility to novel coronavirus for controlling COVID-19. For that, they infected five pet cats, each almost eight-months-old, with SARS-CoV-2 via their noses and found both infectious viral particles and viral RNA in their nasal passages, soft palates, tonsils and windpipes. They also found that respiratory droplet transmission had occurred in two of them. In addition to cats, they also experimented with other animals.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised infected people to limit their contact with the pets until they recovered fully.