If you had COVID-19, there’s a good chance your pet may have caught it too, according to a new study.
Reporting in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers tried to gauge how common SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were among cats and dogs across Italy. Their findings showed that a total of 16.2 percent of cats and 2.3 percent of dogs had gained antibodies to the virus responsible for COVID-19 between March and June 2020, indicating they had also been infected with the virus. Furthermore, it looks like 20 percent of cats and 3.2 of dogs who had SARS-CoV-2-infected owners were infected with the virus.
The study is relatively small and may not be representative of the wider world — at the time of the study, Italy was enduring a vicious first wave — but it hints that a significant number of pets, particularly cats, have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 if their owner had caught the virus.
To reach their findings, scientists in Italy studied 198 samples from pets (130 from dogs and 68 from cats) collected from around the country, where there was a significant wave of cases at the time. As a control, they also looked at 100 samples (65 from dogs and 35 from cats) collected in different regions of Italy before the pandemic. Altogether, 54 cats and 93 dogs lived in households where people had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
Eleven cats and three dogs were found to be seropositive for SARS-CoV-2. All had owners who had been infected by SARS-CoV-2, suggesting they caught the virus from their human companions.
Most of the pets remained asymptomatic, with just four out of the 14 animals displaying any symptoms, namely sneezing, coughing, and a snotty nose.
“A higher percentage of feline samples tested positive, confirming a higher susceptibility and prevalence in cats than in dogs reported in previous experiments,” the report reads. “The susceptibility of cats to SARS-related human coronaviruses also was reported in 2003 when a study confirmed that cats were susceptible to infection and could transmit the virus to other in-contact animals."
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of reports popped up around the world showing cats and dogs were catching the infection from their owners. This was followed by accounts of tigers and gorillas in zoos testing positive for the virus, as well as minks held captive in fur farms.
Fortunately, the risk to pets appears to be relatively low and instances of the infection are much lower than humans. While there have been a small number of reported fatalities in cats, most animals appear to recover smoothly from the disease. However, one early study did find a link between heart problems in cats and the new COVID-19 variants. Potential COVID vaccines for animals are being developed, though whether pets will need them is yet to be seen.