A cat in Belgium has become the world’s first feline to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the respiratory disease COVID-19, after experts warn it likely became infected by its owner.
The case suggests that “an animal can carry the virus just like objects,” according to experts at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liège and a newsletter posted by the government Science Committee.
A week after returning from Italy, the cat’s owner showed symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, and shallow breathing and tested positive for COVID-19 infection. Viral RNA taken from the feline’s stool and vomit found the presence of the virus after the feline exhibited symptoms of digestive and respiratory disease. So far, the cat is the third known case of a pet becoming infected by a human. Two dogs in Hong Kong also tested positive for the virus earlier this month but showed no disease symptoms.
Although these reports present a possible new mode of virus transmission, they do not suggest that pets pose a risk of infection to their owners, according to a press release issued by Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain.
“There is no evidence to date that the virus is being transmitted to humans or other pets,” writes the agency. “Although it is suspected that the virus causing COVID-19 in humans originally came from wild animals, it has since adapted to humans.”
In all three cases, it is most likely the animals became infected by their owner and not the other way around. Though the risk is considered low, experts say the concern now is whether an animal may be infected by a person and then become a carrier. Even if that is the case, the committee adds that it considers such a risk negligible compared to the risk of person-to-person transmission.
“The absence of symptoms in the two infected dogs and the improved health of the cat advocate either for an asymptomatic carrier, or, for a non-lethal infection of the pet animal. The same comments were made during the outbreak of SARS-CoV virus, a related virus,” notes the science committee. Virus secretion by the animal adds to further risk of direct and indirect contamination of a person’s environment.
In the midst of all of this, it is important to maintain the animal’s well-being. Experts recommend people continue to practice proper hygiene etiquette and to avoid contact with pets, especially when feeling ill. These measures are to prevent the person from transmitting the virus to their pet and having them become the carrier.
Pet animals should also be kept away from infected people as much as possible. Testing measures should be prioritized for human use, and if an animal is suspected to be ill, then pet owners are advised to contact their veterinarian. Because both dogs and the cat appear to be largely unaffected by the viral infection, it is believed that pets will recover and do not need to be euthanized.
[H/T: The Brussels Times]