CDC Confirms 2 Companion Animals in U.S. with SARS-CoV-2 Virus

by John M. Simpson.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today that two pet cats at undisclosed locations in the State of New York are confirmed to be positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that characterizes the human disease COVID-19.  These are the first cases of companion animals (pets) in the U.S. confirmed to have the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

According to the CDC, the cats, which live in separate parts of the state, both showed mild respiratory symptoms and are both expected recover.

The first cat lived in a household where none of the humans showed any symptoms of the disease.  It was thought that the cat may have contracted the virus from an asymptomatic human or from an infected individual outside the animal’s home.  The second cat was tested after it showed symptoms and after a human in the same residence tested positive for the virus.  Both animals were tested in by a private veterinary laboratory, but the results were confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

The cases were added to the list maintained by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of confirmed U.S. animal cases of SARS-CoV-2.  Prior to today, that list consisted only of a tiger and a lion in the Bronx Zoo in New York City.  These two new cases are required to be reported by USDA – as instances of an emerging disease – to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), as were the prior cases involving the big cats at the Bronx Zoo.

As to whether these new cases justified additional action, CDC observed as follows:

Public health officials are still learning about SARS-CoV-2, but there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare.  Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected.

This is consistent with the views of an informal scientific working group commissioned by OIE to monitor the effect that COVID-19 is having on the human-animal interface (which we reported on here).

Until more is known about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and animals, CDC recommended the following as to companion animals:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

CDC also recommended the following regarding individuals who are positive for SARS-CoV-2 who also have companion animals:

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Hopefully, these new cases involving pet cats are aberrational.   The American Veterinary Medical Association reported that there were 76,811,305 dogs and 58,385,725 cats held as companion animals in the U.S. in 2017-2018.