Cat-To-Cat Coronavirus Transmission Possible, UW-Madison Study Finds

May 15, 2020

There have been reports about humans infecting felines with the coronavirus, such as big cats at the Bronx Zoo. That led researchers at UW-Madison to start looking into cat-to-cat transmission.  

No matter how spiffy a cat looks, a UW-study shows that under certain conditions, cats can develop COVID-19.
Credit Angelina Mosher Salazar

Peter Halfmann is one of the lead researchers. He says the study included three pairs of cats. 

"We took one cat from the pair and infected it by internasal inoculation, some virus in the eye and then in the mouth. And then we house that cat by itself for 24 hours," he explains.

Then, researchers reunited the pairs of cats, putting each infected one into a cage with a cat not exposed to the coronavirus. After 10 days, they found the virus had spread to each of the uninfected cats.

The researchers never saw a cat sneeze or have a spike in body temperature. All of these healthy cats survived, clearing the virus and even showing a high antibody response. But Halfmann can’t say for sure that an immunosuppressed cat would have the same results. This was also an experimental setting: the cats got a lot of the virus and they got it directly.

So, does this mean cat owners could get the coronavirus from their pets? Halfmann says he’d like to see the results of research looking into that possibility.

"But that's more something that our colleagues that are epidemiologists will have to start looking more into," he explains. "Start looking at cases where there's been family-to-family transmission and find out is there a cat in the household or not."

At this point, Halfmann says there are no documented cases or evidence of humans getting the coronavirus from cats.

“What we can say is that you’re more likely to get infected from another person out in public or from another person within your household than you are with your cat," he says.

"You're more likely to get infected from another person out in public or from another person within your household than you are with your cat."

If people are worried that their cat could make them sick, or vice versa, Halfmann says not to overreact. Just use good cat owner practices.

"If you have the virus in your family or household, you should also be doing some social distancing with your pet cat," he says. "And you're told not to let your animal kiss you or lick you or things like that. So just kind of want to reiterate that kind of message for cat owners during this time right now” 

Halfmann says if you have questions or concerns, you can always give your local vet a call.

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