Scientists from the University of Glasgow have identified two cases of human-to-cat transmissions of Covid.
Researchers found the two cases of transmission as part of a screening programme of the feline population in the UK.
The two cats, who are of different breeds and were living in separate households, displayed mild to severe respiratory signs, and researchers believe that both pets were infected by their owners, who had symptoms of coronavirus before the cats fell ill.
Researchers at the centre worked on the study in partnership with the Veterinary Diagnostic Service (VDS), at the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
The study was funded by the Wellcome ISSF Covid Response Fund and supported by the Medical Research Council.
The first cat was a four-month-old female Ragdoll kitten from a household where the owner developed symptoms at the end of March 2020 that were consistent with Covid, although they were not tested.
The kitten was then taken to a vet with breathing difficulties in April 2020, but its condition deteriorated and it later had to be put down.
Post-mortem lung samples revealed damage that was consistent with a viral pneumonia and there was also evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The second cat was a six-year-old female Siamese from a household where one owner tested positive for coronavirus.
The cat was taken to the vet with nasal discharge and conjunctivitis, but its symptoms remained mild and the cat later recovered.
‘It is important that we improve our understanding of animal SARS-CoV-2 infection’
The study, which was published in the Veterinary Record, said that there is currently no evidence of cat-to-human transmission, or that cats, dogs or other domestic animals play any significant role in regards to human Covid-19 infections.
However, the scientists did say that domestic animals could potentially act as a “viral reservoir”, which could allow continued transmission of the virus.
Experts said it is therefore important to improve understanding of whether or not pets can play a role in infecting humans.
Professor Margaret Hosie, from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research and lead author of the study, said: “These two cases of human-to-animal transmission, found in the feline population in the UK, demonstrate why it is important that we improve our understanding of animal SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“Currently, animal-to-human transmission represents a relatively low risk to public health in areas where human-to-human transmission remains high.”
“However, as human cases decrease, the prospect of transmission among animals becomes increasingly important as a potential source of SARS-CoV-2 reintroduction to humans,” Prof Hosie added.
“It is therefore important to improve our understanding of whether exposed animals could play any role in transmission.”
Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: “These are important and interesting findings, adding to the body of evidence that humans can infect their pets, in some cases, as here, leading to clinical disease in the animals.
“Cats and dogs have been reported to be infected. This is a high quality study, including whole genome sequencing to confirm transmission links.”