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Study: More cats could be catching COVID than previously thought

Cats who catch COVID seem to be fighting off the virus with naturally developed antibodies, according to a new study of cats in Wuhan, China, where the first outbreak is believed to have originated.

Among other findings, the researchers say more cats may be catching COVID that previously thought. And they could be at risk of reinfection.

Researchers from Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan took blood samples and nasal and anal swabs from 102 cats between January and March of this year and also included samples collected in 2019 from 39 cats.

They found that COVID-19 antibodies were present in 15 of the blood samples, 11 of which showed the presence of neutralizing antibodies.

None of the cats whose samples were taken actually tested positive for COVID-19 or displayed obvious symptoms. And based on the results of follow-up visits, none had died at the time of publication.

The samples were taken from 46 cats who were abandoned at animal shelters, 41 cats who were patients at pet hospitals, and 15 cats in households with a member who tested positive for COVID-19.

The three cats with the highest antibody levels came from COVID-positive households.

There were also signs that some of the cats were infected by other cats, which supports previous research.

Of particular interest, the researchers write that the type of antibodies produced by the cats resembles antibodies observed in seasonal coronavirus infections, implying that the cats infected with SARS-CoV-2 infection “remain at risk of reinfection.”

The authors state that this is a similar transient antibody response to also be observed in humans, so cats may have “great potential as an animal model for assessing the characteristic of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in humans.”

While there’s currently no evidence that cat-to-human transmission is possible, the authors say pet owners should continue to take precautions to practice proper hygiene and maintain social distancing between cats and COVID-19 patients, recommendations which align with those of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers write that their data provides “an important reference for the clinical treatment and prevention of COVID-19,” but more research is needed to establish the route of COVID-19 from humans to cats.

Photo credit: © Gettyimages/gesrey