COVID in a Cat
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has infected a wide variety of animal species, both domestic and wild, since it was identified in 2019. There was concern that spreading the virus to other species could lead to new mutations and even harmful new variants.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and School of Medicine discovered that in at least one clear case of interspecies transmission, crossing the species line did not confer significant mutations on the virus.
Writing in the Viruses newsletter, scientists described a domestic cat that contracted the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant from a caregiver and was treated at Pennsylvania Veterinary College Hospital. The complete genome sequencing conducted on the virus closely matched viral sequences circulating in people in the Philadelphia area at the time.
“SARS-CoV-2 seriously has an incredibly wide host range,” says veterinarian Elizabeth Lennon, senior author of the study and assistant professor at the Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “What this means to me is; “As SARS-CoV-2 continues to dominate the human population, we need to keep track of what’s happening in other animal species.”
The findings are the first published example of a delta variant occurring in a domestic cat in the United States. Another important point is that the infection in the cat was determined only by the stool test. The swab taken from the nose did not give a positive result in the test.
“This highlights the importance of sampling from multiple body sites,” Lennon says. “We wouldn’t be able to detect the virus if we just took a nasal swab.”
Lennon and his colleagues had been searching for SARS-CoV-2 by sampling cats and dogs since the early days of the epidemic. This particular cat, an 11-year-old female, was brought to the faculty hospital with gastrointestinal symptoms in September. The cat was exposed to its owner who had COVID-19, but the owner was isolated from the cat for 11 days before the cat arrived at the hospital. During this period, someone else in the house took care of the cat.