Can Animals Get Coronavirus? New York Pet Cats Test Positive for COVID-19

Two cats in New York have become the first U.S. pets to test positive for the coronavirus, raising the question of which animals are susceptible to the bug that causes COVID-19.

The cats live in two different parts of New York state, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Both had mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery," the statement read.

None of the members of the first cat's household were sick with COVID-19, leading officials to believe either one of its owners was asymptomatic or it caught it from someone outside its home.

The other cat is thought to have got the virus from its owner who tested positive for COVID-19 prior to her pet falling ill. "Another cat in the household has shown no signs of illness," the USDA said.

The cases come after a tiger at Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month, in what is thought to be the first example of a human giving an animal COVID-19 in the U.S.

The USDA said infections of SARS-CoV-2, the name of the new coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, "have been reported in very few animals worldwide, mostly in those that had close contact with a person with COVID-19."

The statement read: "At this time, routine testing of animals is not recommended."

The USDA said: "Public health officials are still learning about SARS-CoV-2, but there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States.

"Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected."

The department recommended pet owners follow CDC guidelines on pet care during the pandemic, by not allowing them to interact with people or other animals outside their household. Cats should be kept indoors when possible. Dogs should be walked on a leash "maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals," while avoiding dog parks or public places where large groups of people or dogs gather.

Those who are sick should restrict contact with pets and other animals, "just like you would around other people," the USDA said citing the CDC. That includes avoiding "petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding." Another member of the household should care for pets if possible. If not, a cloth face covering should be worn and hands washed before and after interactions.

Earlier this month, a study published in the journal Science found that the coronavirus "replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks," but can infect ferrets and cats.

"We found experimentally that cats are susceptible to airborne infection," the authors wrote.

Commenting in a statement at the time, Andrew Freedman, reader in infectious diseases and honorary consultant physician at the U.K.'s Cardiff University School of Medicine who did not work on the paper, said: "This study provides convincing evidence that cats can be infected by SARS-CoV-2, both by direct inoculation into the nasal cavity and by droplet transmission from other infected cats in adjacent cages. Dogs, however, were much less susceptible.

Mirroring the USDA, he said: "It is important to note that this does not imply that cats are a significant cause of transmission to humans in the current COVID-19 pandemic or that cats are likely to come to any harm by catching the infection from their owners. Further studies will be required to ascertain the true significance of these findings."

Caroline Allen, chief veterinary officer of the U.K. animal advocacy charity the RSPCA, said: "A very small number of animals; pets and laboratory animals, have been reported to have shown symptoms of COVID-19. Some of these animals were deliberately exposed to the disease and in an artificial setting which did not represent real life. The others were cases where the virus has reportedly been passed from a person to an animal. Importantly, to date, there is no known evidence of the virus passing from pets to humans."

"Even in cases where people have passed the virus to other animals, the risk is incredibly small.

She added: "This situation is one which is evolving and at pace, so we are advising that everyone takes sensible precautions around their pets. This means thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after interacting with them and avoid being kissed or licked and sharing food with them. You should also avoid touching other animals outside your home."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
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The communications manager at the San Diego Humane Society holds a kitten at the kitten nursery in San Diego, California, on April 21, 2020. Two cats in New York have become the first pets in the U.S. to test positive for the new coronavirus, officials said April 22. ARIANA DREHSLER/AFP via Getty Images