Two cats in New York State test positive for SARS-CoV-2

April 23, 2020

Health experts continue to reassure veterinarians and pet owners that animal cases are very rare, and there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to people; thus routine pet testing is not recommended at this time.

In the first confirmed pet cases in the U.S., two pet cats in New York State have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a statement released yesterday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This news comes on the heels of a Bronx Zoo tiger testing positive for the virus and early (not yet peer reviewed) clinical research showing that cats appear to be susceptible to the virus.

The cats that tested positive live in two separate areas of the state; each was tested after showing mild signs of respiratory illness. Both are expected to make a full recovery.

A breakdown of the cases

The cause of infection in the first cat is unknown, because no persons in the household tested positive for the virus. The virus may have been transmitted by a mildly ill or asymptomatic household member or through contact with an infected person outside the home. The owner of the second cat tested positive for COVID-19 before the cat showed any signs. Another cat in the same household hasn’t shown any signs of the virus.

Antech Diagnostics discovered the positive samples as part of its surveillance program and submitted them to the USDA. Confirmatory testing was conducted at the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, an international reference laboratory that “provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques, as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases.” This form of testing is required for certain animal diseases in the U.S.

Why testing recommendations remain unchanged

dvm360 spoke with Jennifer Ogeer, DVM, MSc, MBA, MA, vice president of medical affairs at Antech, who says she doesn’t expect to see an increase in SARS-CoV-2–positive feline cases. Instead, she says, in most cases of cats with respiratory signs the illness will likely turn out to be a common viral or bacterial infection. Dr. Ogeer also explains why, despite these new cases, animal testing recommendations remain the same.

“To date, more than 2.5 million people throughout the world have tested positive for COVID-19, and I believe most human health experts generally agree that the actual number of cases is likely much higher. Despite these millions of cases, there have been thousands of cats testing negative and only just a handful of pet infections worldwide,” she says.

“In some cases, these infections were in a laboratory environment, which is very different than a pet in a home,” she continues. “We don’t know what the future holds, but the data thus far support the recommendation that widespread testing for pets is not needed at this time.“

Dr. Ogeer’s statement aligns with those of national and international health experts who say there is no evidence to suggest that pets can spread the virus to humans. “Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare,” according to the CDC and USDA.

How to protect pets

Until more information is known about pets and SARS-CoV-2, the CDC recommends taking the following precautions to help prevent pets from contracting the virus:

  • Don’t let pets interact with people or other animals outside the home.
  • Keep cats indoors as much as possible.
  • Walk dogs on a leash.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

For more information from the CDC about caring for pets during the pandemic, click here.