A study confirms that felines can catch the virus and spread it between themselves. But do not panic, the risk seems very limited.
A few cases of contaminated cats have already been identified. That of a tiger in a zoo too. If the coronavirus pandemic affects humans first and foremost (and there is also the fear for great apes), it is important to know more precisely how it could affect domestic and farm animals.
Pork, chicken and duck not affected
A team of Chinese scientists therefore studied the sensitivity of the coronavirus on cats, dogs, ferrets, pigs, hens and ducks. The results of their research were published this Wednesday, April 8 in the journal “Science”. This is confirmed, the cat is indeed sensitive to the new virus. Just like the ferret. On the other hand, the dog is very little and pork, chicken and duck not at all.
For their experiments, the scientists inoculated a large dose of coronavirus to several representatives of each species and placed the cages of these infected animals (one per cage) near the cages of healthy animals. Without mixing the species. They then observed the results.
Cats can spread it
In cats, the experiment was first carried out on subadult cats, 6 to 9 months old. All those inoculated were found to be carriers of SARS-CoV-2, traces of which were found in the upper respiratory tract, but not in the lungs. However, none showed any symptoms of severe illness. Out of the three non-inoculated cats placed nearby, only one was carrying the virus, which shows that it can therefore also be transmitted by air, even if the risk seems low. All infected cats, even indirectly, have also developed antibodies.
The researchers repeated the experiment on younger cats, aged between 70 and 100 days. It turned out that these were much more severely impacted, with serious lesions in particular of the mucous membrane and the lungs. Unlike humans, young cats are therefore much more sensitive to the coronavirus.
Dogs are doing well
In dogs, the experiments were carried out on five 3-month-old beagles. Viral RNA was only discovered in two, who also developed antibodies. The live virus was not found in any of the five and no nearby uninoculated dogs were contaminated. The dog is therefore very insensitive to coronavirus. And the latter does not infect pigs, ducks or chickens at all, even if it is massively inoculated.
Ferrets, guinea pigs for treatments
If tests have been done on ferrets, it is not as a pet or farm animal, but because it is often used as a guinea pig for respiratory viruses that affect humans. Influenza and previous coronaviruses had also replicated in the upper and lower respiratory tract of ferrets. SARS-CoV-2, on the other hand, only infected the upper respiratory tract and not the lungs of ferrets. And it did not cause serious illness or death. Why, unlike humans, does the coronavirus not affect the lungs of this animal? It is a track to dig. In addition, the researchers say, “the fact that SARS-CoV-2 effectively replicates in the upper respiratory tract of ferrets makes it an ideal candidate for testing antiviral drugs or vaccines against the disease.”
In conclusion, Chinese scientists say that the coronavirus must be monitored in cats in order to eliminate the epidemic in humans. But do not panic, as recalled by “The Conversation”, which puts the results of this study into perspective: few cats tested, which were infected after injection of a massive dose of virus and which have only very little spread disease. The risk of human-animal and animal-human contamination, little studied, seems likely to be minimal. Otherwise, given the number of humans affected, there should be many cats affected.
It is therefore important not to be afraid and abandon your animal for fear of infecting him or that he will infect us. However, it is better to take too many precautions than not enough. It is therefore advisable to avoid contact between affected people and animals and, for others, not to be licked by your cat if possible. And, anyway, wash your hands after contact and regularly clean their bowls and litter boxes. But don’t put cats in soap or hydroalcoholic gel! Not only will they hate it, but it can hurt them.