Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the pathogen that causes COVID-19 in humans.
The cats are the first pets in the U.S. confirmed to be infected with the virus responsible for the current global pandemic.
In a joint release today (April 22), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture announced that the pet cats, from different parts of the state, had mild respiratory symptoms and are expected to recover.
The two agencies noted that one of the cats came from a household where no one has tested positive for the virus; the release stated that the transmission could have come from an asymptomatic member of the household or from a person outside of the home.
The other cat lived in a home where its owner had previously tested positive for coronavirus.
Authorities ranging from the CDC to the World Health Organization have stated that there is no evidence of animal-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.
According to the CDC website: "At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low."
The CDC goes on to state: "Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by the virus that causes COVID-19 and the role animals may play in the spread of COVID-19."
News accounts from a few weeks ago reported that a cat in Belgium had become infected with the coronovirus after its owner became ill following a trip to Italy, making it the first recorded human-to-cat transmission. Another cat in Hong Kong also was confirmed as positive for the virus after its owner became seriously ill.
A study of blood samples from more than 100 stray, shelter, and domestic cats in Wuhan, China, found that 14.7 percent of the felines tested positive for coronavirus. The preliminary study, published in the online journal bioRxiv, has not yet been peer-reviewed and should not be considered conclusive.
In an April 22 Washington Post story, J. Scott Weese, the chief of infection control for the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, downplayed the possibility of animal-to-human transmission, although he said it could make up a "small...component".
“The lack of evidence doesn’t mean there’s absence of risk," Weese told the Post. "It just means we haven’t been able to sort it out. We can just be more confident that people are the main drivers of this, and maybe there’s a small animal component. Humans are a much greater risk to me than animals.”
Weese added that cats should be kept inside or supervised when outside.
The CDC advises people to keep their pets away from other animals and humans when they are outside the home. There has been no research conducted to date to determine if or for how long the coronavirus can survive on cat (or any animal) fur.
Princeton University's Dylan H. Morris, who coauthored an analysis of survivability of coronavirus on various surfaces that was published as a letter in the New England Jounal of Medicine on March 17, told the Post that he and his colleagues didn't test the virus on animal fur. “It’s a fun question,” he said.
Morris added that he “wouldn’t want to speculate which, if any, of our surfaces would be most comparable to fur.”
Meanwhile, eight tigers and lions residing in New York City's Bronx Zoo have tested positive for the coronavirus, the zoo's operator, the Wildlife Conservation Society, confirmed in an announcement today. The society said that all the big cats are expected to recover, and it speculated that the infection was probably transmitted by an asymptomatic staff member.
Authorities have determined that although dogs can become infected, it is unlikely to occur except from very close contact with an infected person.