Can Cats Contract or Spread COVID-19?

After it was reported that two dogs tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong, a cat in Belgium with symptoms of the virus has tested positive. The owner of the cat also tested positive for COVID-19; the cat experienced difficulty breathing and gastrointestinal distress one week later.

However, this is not to say that the cat had not simply contracted the feline-only coronavirus, which has been infecting cats for decades. One form of the feline coronavirus causes mild gastrointestinal disease, and the other is a highly fatal disease known as feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP.

The standard test for COVID-19 is only able to detect the viral genome—it does not detect infectious or "live" virus particles, meaning that it is impossible to determine whether the viral genome found in the cat was from a "live" particle. It is possible that the cat ate contaminated food and the virus passed through its gastrointestinal tract.

The two canine cases of COVID-19 had no obvious symptoms, but this feline case did involve respiratory symptoms. There is a long list of reasons why cats may experience breathing difficulties as well as gastrointestinal discomfort. It is impossible to tell whether COVID-19 was responsible for the illness.

Fortunately, there remains no actual evidence of pets spreading the virus to humans. As of March 30, there are over 720,000 human cases across the world. If this virus was able to infect pets, it is safe to assume we would know by now.

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