A study, published in the Journal Virulence, conducted by the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine found that household cats were more susceptible than dogs to natural infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, early on during the pandemic in Minnesota.
The researchers looked at samples from archived blood serum — collected from 239 cats and 510 dogs taken to the University’s Veterinary Medical Center for routine diagnostic tests between mid-April and mid-June of 2020 — and screened for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 exposure.
“Because companion animals can be the source of a range of infectious diseases, determining how susceptible the two most popular pet species in the United States are to SARS-CoV-2 — and how prevalent the disease may be among them — could have significant impacts for both human and animal health,” said Hinh Ly, co-author of the paper and professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.
The researchers developed two new serological tests to look for the presence of antibodies as evidence of past exposure to the virus. They found that 8 percent of the cats and fewer than 1 percent of the dogs tested positive for the antibodies. When the tests were sensitive, they were able to accurately detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus as opposed to other common coronaviruses known to infect pets.
The team is currently performing a similar, follow-up study covering the latter months of 2020, when the positivity rate of human COVID-19 cases was near its peak in Minnesota. The results, which are pending release, show the companion animals are susceptible to natural SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“The results will help clarify the prevalence of cross-species transmission of this coronavirus among pets and their owners,” said Yuying Liang, co-author of the study and professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.
This research was funded in part by the University’s Office of Academic and Clinical Affairs via the COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant program.
About the College of Veterinary Medicine
The University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine affects the lives of animals and people every day through educational, research, service, and outreach programs. Established in 1947, the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is Minnesota’s only veterinary college. Fully accredited, the college has graduated nearly 4,000 veterinarians and hundreds of scientists. The college is also home to the Veterinary Medical Center, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Leatherdale Equine Center and The Raptor Center. To learn more, visit vetmed.umn.edu.