CORONAVIRUS

Spain records its first case of a cat with coronavirus

Researchers insist animal infections are “anecdotal” and that there is no evidence of pets being able to transmit the disease to humans

A pet cat looks out of a window of a home in Madrid.
A pet cat looks out of a window of a home in Madrid.Jesús Hellín / Europa Press / Europa Press via Getty Images

About a week ago, experts from the Animal Health Research Center (Cresa), in Barcelona, received the body of a cat. The pet belonged to a family in which several members had tested positive for Covid-19. The owners had taken the cat to the vet because it was having trouble breathing. It also had a very low platelet count and was suffering from heart failure. The vet decided to put the animal down and send its body to Cresa.

Researchers from the center studied several of the cat’s organs in search of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which they found in two places: the nasal cavity and a lymph node near the intestine. The viral load was very low. According to the analysis, published on Friday by Cresa, the cat had a genetic heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can lead to sudden death. None of the problems found in the cat were compatible with a coronavirus infection. In other words, the virus did not have any impact on its health, according to the veterinarians.

These are incidental findings and there is no evidence that cats can get sick or die from coronavirus
Valentina Aybar, Association of Veterinarian Specialist in Small Animals

The cat was four years old and its name was Negrito. The researchers have not offered any more information about the cat’s owners in order to protect their privacy. “This only shows that cats in very isolated occasions can be collateral victims of the pandemic, but there is very little chance of them infecting people,” explained Nàtalia Majò, the head of Cresa.

“We intend to publish this data in a scientific journal, but before that we want to try to sequence the genome of the virus and see if the animal had antibodies,” added Joaquim Segalés, a researcher at Cresa.

This is the sixth cat in the world to have been detected with the coronavirus. Only a handful of animals have contracted the disease, among them two dogs, a tigress at a New York zoo and five other cats – two in Hong Kong, one in Belgium, one in New York and one found on Monday in France.

“These are anecdotal cases,” explained Víctor Briones, professor of animal health at Madrid’s Complutense University. “Covid-19 is a human disease, as seen by the millions of cases, while the number of animal cases can be counted on two hands.”

“People have to be clear that in very few known cases, the cat has always been the receiver of the transmission, there is no evidence that it can pass it on to a person,” he added.

Valentina Aybar, the president of the feline specialists group of the Veterinary Association of Small Animal Specialists, agrees. “We have to send a message of calm to everyone with cats. These are incidental findings and there is no evidence that cats can get sick or die from coronavirus.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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