Two cats have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but experts still don’t think pets infect humans

  • Two cats – one in Belgium, the other in China – have tested positive for coronavirus in the past week.
  • New research suggests infected felines could spread the virus to other cats, although it doesn’t appear to be very transmissible.
  • Researchers believe dogs aren’t susceptible to infection (although at least one tested ‘weak positive’ without showing symptoms).
  • There’s still no evidence it can spread from pets to humans, and experts say there’s no reason for pet owners to be concerned.
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As the US and many other countries continue to be under quarantine and social distancing policies, many people have found themselves stuck at home with their cats or dogs, wondering if their furry friends may also be at risk.

To date, two pet cats – one in Belgium, the other in China – and one dog (also in China) have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Experts believe all three animals likely contracted the virus from their owners.

Now, new research suggests that cats may be more susceptible to infection from the novel coronavirus, and may be able to spread it to other cats. There’s still no evidence to suggest that pets can infect humans, however, and dogs are not likely to be susceptible, according to the study which has not been peer-reviewed.

Researchers in China found that, after a group of six cats were exposed to high concentrations of the novel coronavirus, they appeared to be infected, with evidence of the virus found in the upper respiratory tracts and faeces. The study found that the virus also spread to a cat in a nearby cage, likely via respiratory droplets.

The researchers found a similar result in ferrets, but discovered the virus didn’t replicate as successfully in dogs (or pigs, chickens, or ducks). Although two of the dogs exposed to the coronavirus later tested positive for the virus in their faeces, the virus wasn’t found in their internal organs or respiratory tract.

Experts say most pets likely aren’t at risk, and there’s no evidence the virus can spread to pet owners

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention still has not received any reports of animals infected. The American Veterinary Medical Association has continued to emphasise that there’s no reason to think pets could spread the disease to humans. Both the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health stated that as of April 2, there have been no reported cases of pets transmitted the novel coronavirus to humans.

Dr. Will Sander, the head of the joint veterinary-master’s in public health degree program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine, previously told Business Insider that pets are unlikely to be affected by coronavirus.

“At this time, people should be minimally concerned about this coronavirus affecting their pets,” he said. “The virus seems well adapted to spread between people and, therefore, unlikely to jump to dogs or cats.”

There was a reported case in early March of a Pomeranian who tested ‘weak positive’ for the novel coronavirus and quarantined in Hong Kong, Business Insider previously reported. The dog, which belonged to a coronavirus patient, may have been carrying the virus in its mouth and nose, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. It reportedly showed no signed of illness.

It may be that, in that case, the virus was passed from the human, who was confirmed to have COVID-19, Sander said.

And it’s still the case that most cats and dogs probably aren’t at risk and are unlikely to carry the virus around, infecting other humans, Sander confirmed in a more recent interview via email.

“The biggest risk by far for contracting COVID-19 is still from other humans,” he said. “Precautions that CDC has had out for a while of those positive for COVID-19 or showing upper respiratory signs and fever trying to distance themselves from people and pets still holds true.”