Domestic cats can be asymptomatic carriers of SARS-CoV-2, show studies

Two recently published studies from Kansas State University researchers and collaborators have led to two important findings related to the COVID-19 pandemic: Domestic cats can be asymptomatic carriers of SARS-CoV-2, but pigs are unlikely to be significant carriers of the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

Other research has shown that COVID-19-infected human patients are transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to cats; this includes domestic cats and even large cats, such as lions and tigers. Our findings are important because of the close association between humans and companion animals.”

Jürgen A. Richt, Regents Distinguished Professor, Kansas State University, College of Veterinary Medicine

There are about 95 million house cats in the U.S. and about 60 million to 100 million feral cats, Richt said.

Richt is the senior author on the two recent collaborative publications in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections: “SARS-CoV-2 infection, disease and transmission in domestic cats” and “Susceptibility of swine cells and domestic pigs to SARS-CoV-2.”

Through their in-depth study at the K-State Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI, at Pat Roberts Hall, the researchers studied susceptibility to infection, disease and transmission in domestic cats.

They found that domestic cats may not have obvious clinical signs of SARS-CoV-2, but they still shed the virus through their nasal, oral and rectal cavities and can spread it efficiently to other cats within two days. Further research is needed to study whether domestic cats can spread the virus to other animals and humans.

“This efficient transmission between domestic cats indicates a significant animal and public health need to investigate a potential human-cat-human transmission chain,” said Richt, who is also the director of the university’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, known as CEEZAD, and the Center on Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, known as CEZID.

For the study involving pigs, the researchers found that SARS-CoV-2-infected pigs are not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and do not appear to transmit the virus to contact animals.

“Pigs play an important role in U.S. agriculture, which made it important to determine the potential SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility in pigs,” Richt said. “Our results show that pigs are unlikely to be significant carriers of SARS-CoV-2.”

The BRI has provided the high-security laboratories for Richt and collaborators to study SARS-CoV-2. It is a biosafety level-3 and biosafety level-3 agriculture facility that houses important multidisciplinary research, training and educational programs on pathogens that affect animals, plants and insects, as well as food safety and security.

Richt and his collaborators plan further studies to understand SARS-CoV-2 transmission in cats and pigs. They also plan to study whether cats are immune to SARS-CoV-2 reinfection after they have recovered from a primary SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“This research is important for risk assessment, implementing mitigation strategies, addressing animal welfare issues, and to develop preclinical animal models for evaluating drug and vaccine candidates for COVID-19,” Richt said.

Pigs Are Neither Susceptible To Nor Carriers Of Virus

For the study involving pigs, the researchers found that SARS-CoV-2-infected pigs are not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and do not appear to transmit the virus to contact animals. Pigs play an important role in U.S. agriculture, which made it important to determine the potential SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility in pigs. The results of this study show that pigs are unlikely to be significant carriers of SARS-CoV-2.

Mammals More At Risk Of COVID Infection

Another recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says that about 26 animals that come in regular contact with people may be vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This research, carried out in the University College London, found that most birds, fish, and reptiles do not appear to be at risk of infection. But the majority of the mammals they reviewed can be infected. Researchers of this study predict possible infection in many animals, including domestic cats, dogs, mink, lions, and tigers. COVID positive cases have been reported in these animals. Ferrets and macaques have also been infected in laboratory studies. But the likelihood of these animals infecting humans is not known for certain and scientists agree that further tests are needed on this.

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