Two Pet Cats Test Positive for COVID-19 in New York

The first cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in pet cats, the CDC and USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirm. ( Rhonda Brooks )

Two pet cats have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC and USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (USDA NVSL) have announced. They are the first pets in the U.S. to test positive for the virus.

The cats live in two separate areas of New York state and both had mild respiratory illness, but they are expected to make a full recovery, the agencies say. SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in very few animals globally, mostly in animals that had close contact with a person who had COVID-19.

At this time, the agencies do not recommend routine testing of animals. However, if other animals test positive in the U.S., the USDA will post the findings here. State animal health and public health officials will take the lead in making determinations about whether animals should be tested. It is also important to note that testing of animals does not impact the availability of tests for humans, they say.

In the New York cases, a veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs. No one in the household was confirmed to be ill with COVID-19, and the virus may have been transmitted to the cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home.

The samples from the second cat were taken after it showed signs of respiratory illness. The cat’s owner tested positive for COVID-19 before the cat became ill. Another cat in the household has not shown signs of illness, the agencies say.

Both cats tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a private veterinary laboratory, which reported the results to state and federal officials. Confirmatory testing was conducted at the USDA NVSL and included collection of additional samples. NVSL serves as an international reference laboratory and provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques, as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases. This testing is required for certain animal diseases in the U.S. to comply with national and international reporting procedures. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) considers SARS-CoV-2 an emerging disease, and therefore USDA must report confirmed U.S. animal infections to the OIE, the agencies say.

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 U.S. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected, the agencies report.

Until more is known, the CDC recommends the following:

  • 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.
  • If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.
  • 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 the animal.

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