Photo illustration by Manja Vitolic

Cats : potential victims of Covid-19 ?

Last edition the 26 Apr 2020 20:46:20 - Review by Nelly Pailleux , correction by Nelly Pailleux , coordination by Lina Fourneau

It's true

In summury

It was the first time in the USA. In New York State, two cats were tested positive of the virus, Sars-Cov-2.



The news may have come as a shock on April 22 when the Center for Disease Control announced that the two animals were suffering from respiratory infection. If the owner of the first cat had been tested positive, the owner of the second feline did not show any symptoms of Covid-19. However it is too early to draw conclusions when serological tests are not available yet.


During this worldwide pandemy, this is not the first case of what appears as an infection on a animal. Near Liege (Belgium), a cat had already been tested positive at the end of March. In its report, l’Afsca (The federal agency for security of the Food chain) has listed the symptoms. « This cat showed clinical signs (anorexia, diarrhea, vomiting, cough and superficial breathing) revealed during daily exams that a veterinarian conducted by video and through telephone contact with the owner ».


That time, the owner had contracted the virus after a trip in Italy and had probably infect the cat at her return. Today, the animal is doing fine and it’s again too early to affirm that the virus is a real danger to pets. On one side, the number of extremely low cases does not allow conclusions to be drawn. On the other side those three cats remain very rare cases and tests to exclude other etiological causes [study of the causes and factors of a disease, ED] have yet to be carried out.


Also, according to Gilles Salvat, director of research and reference at Anses (French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety), the transmission from cat to human is almost impossible. However, according to the health authority, sanitary measures should be respected with the animal at home.


A study, published on 31 March by the Harbon Veterinary Research Institute under the direction of virologist Zhigao Bu, was conducted to assess this possible transmission between humans and animals. The study has not yet been validated by the scientific community, but the conclusions of the researchers on transmission indicate a greater sensitivity of cats compared to other animal species. However, this statement remains to be qualified. In the scientific journal Nature, virologist Linda Saif of Ohio University gives an initial assessment of the survey: « The results are based on experiments conducted on a small number of animals that were deliberately given the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This does not represent the actual interactions between humans and animals ».


JS interviewed Gilles Salvat, director of research at ANSES, to give an outline of this research. 



Gilles Salvat, directeur des recherches à l'ANSES

JS : How was the study conducted?
Gilles Salvat : The Chinese team tested several types of animals: dogs, pigs, chickens, cats and mink. So why mink? Because it is often a model for multiplying a human virus. They inoculated the virus into five cats. These cats developed no symptoms, but two of them tested positive. By putting them in contact with other cats, under protected conditions of course, they were able to transmit the virus to only one of them. This does not explain whether the virus is really contagious.


What does this study show about the difference in reception between animals ?
We can already see that with the exception of the cat, all the animals tested are insensitive to the virus. The virus did not multiply in their bodies during the experiments. In Hong Kong, for example, the two dogs were able to catch it because they were in the same narrow room as their sick owners. The cat is probably more sensitive, but the extracted doses are not compatible with transmission. Most of the time, cats are asymptomatic.


Are the results to be taken at face value or should they be used with caution? 
The Chinese study was carried out by inoculating intra-nasally with pure virus in very large quantities, which is very far from the real conditions of contamination. There is absolutely no need to worry about a cat in its home. On the contrary, pets in these periods of confinement are also a source of comfort!


Are wild animals more sensitive to Covid-19?


For its part, the French media Numerama devoted an article to the risks of contamination of wild animals, after the announcement of tigers and lions tested positive at the New York Zoo.


Domestic animals do not have the same receptors as humans, so they cannot suffer from cross-species contamination. But the issue is more complex for some wild animals, such as the New York tiger, because of their genetic proximity to humans. Researchers at the Great Ape Health Consortium, for example, are concerned about great apes, especially chimpanzees, which share 95 per cent of their DNA with us.


At the moment, in New York City, the asymptomatic caregiver is the preferred option. However, Numerama reminds us that « there are "feline coronaviruses", which can infect only felines and not humans, but the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is not one of them and has essentially adapted to human cells ». It is therefore still too early to draw a conclusion on this case of the New York zoo. One thing is certain: the process of contaminating domestic animals is to be differentiated from that of contaminating wild animals.

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Vérifiée et vraie

First time seen
28 Mar 2020
Last update
26 Apr 2020
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We are digging deeper to make sure we have scientific evidence and to limit the questioning of fears around pets. 

A cat was indeed infected by the new coronavirus in Belgium, the Belgian health authorities said Friday, a statement by Emmanuel André, a spokesman for the Belgian authorities. Two dogs had already tested positive for Covid-19 in South Korea and Singapore.

We interviewed Gilles Salvat, director delegated to research at the ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) and author of an opinion on the issue to analyze this discovery. 

We also collected a press release from the SPA reacting to this event. 

Tracks and conclusions

A cat was indeed infected by the new coronavirus in Belgium, the Belgian health authorities said Friday, a statement by Emmanuel André, a spokesman for the Belgian authorities. Two dogs had already tested positive for Covid-19 in South Korea and Singapore. Later during the month of April, the first cases of contaminated American cats were announced in the State of New York.

We interviewed Gilles Salvat, director delegated to research at the ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) and author of an opinion on the issue to analyze this discovery. 

We also collected a press release from the SPA reacting to this event. 

Finally, we asked ourselves what the epistemological difference between domestic animals on the one hand and wild animals on the other hand was.

Checkmy.News team

Lina Fourneau

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