Cats that become infected with the latest coronavirus but dogs do not appear to be susceptible, according to a report published on Wednesday, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to suggest it would take a closer look at the human-animal transmission of the virus.
The research, reported on the Science journal website, found that ferrets may also become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the scientific term for the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.
Nevertheless, dogs, chickens, pigs, and ducks are unlikely to contract the infection, the investigators reported.
The goal of the study was to determine which animals are resistant to the virus so that they can be used to test experimental vaccines to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 83,000 people worldwide since it emerged in December in China.
It is believed that SARS-CoV-2 spread from bats to humans. There has been no clear evidence that pets can be carriers except for a few recorded infections in cats and dogs.
A tiger in New York City’s Bronx Zoo that experienced dry cough and a lack of appetite following contact with an infected zookeeper tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday.
The study, based on experiments conducted in China in January and February, found highly susceptible cats and ferrets to the virus when researchers tried to infect the animals by injecting viral particles through the nose.
Researchers also discovered that cats can infect each other by respiratory droplets. Infected cats had viruses in the ears, nose and small bowel. Kittens that were exposed to the virus had major lung, nose, and throat lesions.
“Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in cats should be considered as an adjunct to the elimination of COVID-19 in humans,” the authors wrote.
The virus was contained in the upper respiratory tract of ferrets but did not cause serious illness.
Antibody testing revealed that dogs were less likely to contract the virus, while inoculated pigs, chickens and ducks were found to have no strain of the virus at all.
“It’s both interesting and not terribly surprising in the sense that with the original SARS epidemic, civet cats were implicated as one of the vectors that may have transmitted virus to humans,” said Daniel Kuritzkes, head of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“What these data do provide is support for the recommendation that people who are with Covid-19 should be distancing themselves, not only from other household members but also from their household pets, so as not to transmit the virus to their pets, particularly to cats or other felines,” he said.
On Wednesday the World Health Organization said it is collaborating with its partners to look more closely at the role of pets in the health crisis.
Based on the facts so far, WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said to a news conference: “We don’t think they play a role in transmission but we think they might be affected by an affected human.” WHO’s top emergency specialist Mike Ryan asked people not to fight against animals during the outbreak.
“They’re beings in their own right and they deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. They are victims like the rest of us, “he said.