Do cats transmit the coronavirus?

Just a day ago, the news broke that a Malay tiger from the Bronx Zoo in New York , closed to the public since March 16, has experienced symptoms and tested positive for Covid-19 . Six other big cats also show symptoms consistent with the disease.

The first conjectures estimate that the tiger could have been infected by an asymptomatic covid-19 infected caretaker. However, not all the big cats in the Bronx Zoo have symptoms; leopards and cougars do not show any symptoms of the disease.

Since the beginning of this SARS-COV-2 coronavirus pandemic or also more popularly called Wuhan coronavirus, there has been talk about whether pets transmitted this virus or not.

Recently , there is much talk particularly about the coronavirus and cats and whether they can transmit or suffer it as a result of a preliminary publication (preprint, without peer review) and an article that appeared in Nature .

This is very worrying because the abandonment of pets is already high, with this fear it can be much higher. But … is this fear founded? What about cats and coronavirus?

What about cats and the coronavirus?

To date, there is still no clear animal origin of this new type of coronavirus, although all studies again point to the pangolin that had been exonerated to the detriment of horseshoe bats ( Rhinolophus sp.)

Not only is it essential to know the reservoir of the virus to be able to contain future pandemics (if this virus has not come to stay), but also the degree of affectation or not to pets and also which animal model would be the most optimal to study this new virus.

In the study to which reference is made by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China is done, it was found that cats and ferrets are highly susceptible to SARS-COV-2 virus while other animals like dogs, chickens, pigs and ducks barely are.

From the published study it cannot be stated that the virus is highly transmissible between cats or between humans and cats.

In this study, 5 individuals were used, of which 2 of them were inoculated with large amounts of SARS-COV-2 in the nose without showing symptoms at any time, and the other three were exposed to infected cats.

Of the three cats exposed to other infected cats, only one was infected but it is impossible to determine whether it was through air droplets or through the urine or feces of infected cats.

According to virologist Linda Saif of the Ohio State University in Woosters, it is important to note that for this study, large amounts of the virus were inoculated in only 5 individuals, and it does not represent in any case the real interaction between humans and cats.

If pets were a source of coronavirus transmission, most likely there would already be more solid evidence at this point and at this rate of infections since it is likely that the affection to pets was expressing disease or becoming fatal.

The reason for the study in cats is that they were already susceptible to SARS and also were capable of transmitting it between cats. In that case, and with the severity of that disease (notably greater than in the case of covid-19), no sign of concern was shown regarding cats, nor was any kind of alert launched in this regard.

Therefore, in light of all the current evidence, there is no reason to be concerned about the coronavirus and cats.

Why cats and not dogs or pigs?

According to ongoing studies on SARS-COV-2, it uses angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as a receptor to enter cells.

It seems that the ACE2 of cats, ferrets, orangutans, monkeys and some species of bats is easily recognizable by the new coronavirus, since they are identical or very similar to human in the critical molecules in which the virus binds to cells .

In other animals such as dogs, the difference is greater and the virus is not able to bind as effectively.

And what about all the recommendations about not hugging or sharing food with pets?

This is advice of general application that is given whenever there is a new emerging disease of unknown animal origin .

In the face of initial doubts about whether pets can transmit the disease to each other, from them to humans or from humans to pets and that they become ill, it is always recommended to avoid close contact such as licking, sharing food and hugging.

At the moment, these tips remain in effect not only because of concerns about people but also about the health of the pets themselves.

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