Cats with no symptoms spread COVID-19 virus to other cats in lab test

MADISON, Wis. — A lab experiment suggests that cats can spread the new coronavirus to other cats without any of them ever having symptoms.

Scientists who led the work, published on Wednesday, say it shows the need for more research into whether the virus can spread from people to cats to people again. Health officials have downplayed that possibility and say there’s no evidence that pets are spreading the virus. But they say good hygiene is important in any case.

The study was led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. The news release said researchers administered the virus that causes COVID-19 to three cats. The researchers swabbed the cats’ nasal passages and found the virus in two of the cats. The virus was later found in all three cats within three days.

Another cat was added to the cage of each infected cat. The release said within six days all six cats were shedding the virus from their nasal passages.

The release said the virus was not lethal and that none of the cats showed COVID-19 symptoms, which Kawaoka called a “major finding.”

Researchers have recommended that people with COVID-19 symptoms avoid contact with cats, and to keep cats indoors so they do not contract the virus from others while outside.

“It’s something for people to keep in mind,” said Peter Halfmann, a research professor at UW–Madison who helped lead the study. “If they are quarantined in their house and are worried about passing COVID-19 to children and spouses, they should also worry about giving it to their animals.”

Scientists have reported that cats can become infected with COVID-19 and can possibly transmit the virus to other cats.

The New England Journal of Medicine published the report.