This is a special early release of the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. (ECCMID 2021). If you use this story, please credit the conference
The European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, held online this year and presented new research that suggests that COVID-19 sufferers often pass it to their pets. Cats who sleep on their owners' beds are at greater risk of contracting the disease.
Although studies in the past have shown that dogs and cats can contract COVID-19 from their owners, it was not clear how vulnerable they were or what factors, if any, might increase their chances of being infected. These questions are important for both animal and public health.
Dorothee Bienzle (a professor of veterinary pathology, University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada) and her colleagues looked at dogs and cats of COVID-19 patients.
The 48 cats and 54 dogs were taken from 77 households to be tested for antibodies against COVID-19, a sign that the animal had been infected previously. The owners were asked about their interactions with their pets. This included whether they allowed their pet to lie on their laps or in their beds. The owners were also asked whether they allowed their pets to kiss or lick their faces and how much time they spent with them each day.
Another question was whether the pet became ill during COVID-19, and what symptoms it had.
75 cats and dogs that were living in animal shelters and 75 cats who had been seen at a low cost veterinary clinic were tested for antibodies.
The antibodies were detected in 67% (32/48) of the own cats and 43% (23/544) of the own dogs. This indicates that they have had COVID-19. This is compared to just 9% (7/75), of the dogs and cats at the animal shelter, and 3% (2/75), of the stray cat.
20% of the dogs (11/54) had symptoms, including a lack of energy and a loss of appetite. A few animals experienced diarrhoea or a cough, but all symptoms were quickly resolved.
27% (13/48) of the cats showed symptoms. They had difficulty breathing and a runny nose, which are the most common signs for COVID-19. Three cases of severe COVID-19 were reported, although most were mild.
It did not matter how much time the owner spent with their dog or what type of contact they had with the animal.
However, cats who spent more time with their owners seemed to have a higher chance of contracting infection. Cats that slept on the owner's bed more often had COVID-19.
According to the study's authors, cats are more likely to contract COVID-19 than dogs because of their biology. This includes their viral receptors which allow the virus to enter cells. The risk of infection is also increased by cats sleeping near their owners' faces than dogs.
They also stated that pets with owners are more likely to contract the disease than animals from shelters and stray cats. This is in addition to previous genetic studies.
Professor Bienzle concluded that COVID-19 is very likely to be passed on by someone who has it. Particularly cats that sleep on their owners' beds are at risk. If you have COVID-19, it is important to keep your pet away from you and your bedroom.
"I recommend keeping your pet away form other pets and people. Although evidence is not conclusive that pets could transmit the virus to other pets, it cannot be denied. The possibility that pets could transmit the virus to humans is also not completely eliminated.