Cases in New York cats identified through laboratory’s “passive surveillance” of samples from household pets
Findings indicate need to isolate animals sick with the virus, as well as people
After a week of lethargy, sneezing and watery eyes, a 4-year-old domestic short hair cat on Long Island earned himself a trip to the veterinarian. There, clinicians swabbed his eyes, nose and throat and sent the samples to a laboratory for testing. In the meantime, they gave him broad spectrum antibiotics, noted he was overweight, and sent him home, where within the next few days he recovered from his illness.
In the meantime, some 90 miles away, in Orange County, New York, a 5-year-old female Devon Rex cat was sneezing, coughing, and skipping meals. With a runny nose and eyes, and an owner who worked in a veterinary clinic, she too had samples taken and sent to the same lab for testing. Within a few days, with no other intervention, the second cat, too, recovered.
The laboratory, though, independent from state or federal authorities, was testing incoming samples for SARS-COV-2, as part of a passive surveillance program to identify the virus in household pets. When samples from both cats tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, the lab notified federal and state officials.
In the public health investigation that followed, officials learned that three of the first cat’s five human apartment mates had shown symptoms of the virus that included brief bouts with fever, cough and sweating, with the first person falling ill nine days before the cat. None had been tested for the virus, but residents of their apartment complex were discovered to have been sick with COVID-19. Another cat in the apartment was free of symptoms and was not tested.
The second cat lived with her owner and another cat. The owner had been confirmed sick with the novel coronavirus before the cat’s symptoms began. The other cat was still healthy.
Just two of the estimated 76 million cats living in the United States, where approximately 70% of households are home to at least one pet, the New York cats were the first two reported companion animals reported to health authorities with confirmed SARS-C0V2 infection, and among the first worldwide.
While both cats, who lived exclusively indoors are thought to have become infected by the humans around them, and no evidence has indicated that pet-to-person transmission is a significant source of coronavirus spread, their case does indicate the need for cautions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recounts their illnesses in a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. People with COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, as well as other people, while house pets that test positive for the virus should be separated from other pets and people alike until they recover, the report notes.
While SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have originated in bats, its route to people remains a question. Animals including cats, dogs, zoo tigers and lions, and farmed minks among which the virus has so far been confirmed are thought to have become infected through human contact.