A new study from China has concluded that cats are highly susceptible to the coronavirus, and can spread it among each other.
Conducted by a team at China’s Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, the study – which was published on the website bioRxv and has yet to be peer-reviewed – was originally undertaken to determine the precise vector from which the virus spread to humans. The researchers investigated the susceptibility of different animals commonly in close contact with humans by exposing them to the virus.
The study concluded that cats, as well as ferrets, were susceptible and could catch as well as transmit COVID-19.
The idea of cats being susceptible is not unprecedented, with similar observations having been made during the SARS outbreak in 2003, which was a similar disease to the novel coronavirus.
These findings come a few days after a case of a cat testing positive for the virus was confirmed in Belgium, Live Science reported. In this case, the cat first exhibited symptoms of coronavirus about a week after its owner also became sick following a trip to Italy.
According to the Live Science report, the cat recovered after just nine days.
This contradicts reports from last month, with experts having theorized that pets could carry, though not catch, the virus.
However, while cats can certainly catch coronavirus from humans and each other, there is no evidence that cats were able to infect humans.
“It should be remembered that cats are not playing much, if any, role in the spread of [COVID-19],” University of Nottingham virologist Prof. Jonathan Ball told The Guardian.
“Human-to-human transmission is clearly the main driver, so there is no need to panic about cats as an important source of virus.”
However, people owning cats should take caution to not accidentally infect them.
“People should take usual precautions of hand washing when handling their pets, and avoid overly intimate contact, especially if sick with COVID,” University of Liverpool’s chair of veterinary infectious diseases Prof. Eric Fèvre told The Guardian.
“It is important to add that this says nothing about how the virus coming out of a cat may or may not be infectious to humans.”
“Obviously, if you think you have Covid-19 and share a house with a cat, then it would be sensible to limit close interactions with your furry friend until you are better,” Bell added.
Cats and ferrets are not the only animals confirmed to be susceptible, with gorillas also being believed to be especially vulnerable to the virus. This is not anything out of the ordinary for gorillas, however, as human respiratory diseases are one of the biggest dangers facing the world’s remaining gorilla population.
While cats are susceptible, however, dogs are not, the study revealed. Other animals that do not appear to be susceptible include chickens, ducks and pigs.