FRIDAY, Sept. 11, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Cat lovers, be aware: New research suggests that COVID-19 may be more common in cats than previously thought.
Scientists analyzed blood samples taken from 102 cats between January and March 2020 in Wuhan, China, after the world's first known outbreak of COVID-19 began in that city.
Fifteen of the cats had COVID-19 antibodies in their blood, and 11 of those cats had neutralizing antibodies that bind to the coronavirus and block infection.
None of the cats tested positive for COVID-19 or had obvious symptoms, and none of them died during follow-up, according to the study published online Sept. 1 in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections.
The cats in the study included 46 from three animal shelters, 41 from five pet hospitals, and 15 from families with COVID-19 patients.
The highest levels of antibodies were seen in three cats owned by patients who'd been diagnosed with COVID-19, but there were also signs of cats being infected with the virus by other cats from shelters or from pet hospitals.
While there is currently no evidence of transmission of the new coronavirus between humans and cats, people should consider taking precautions, said study author Meilin Jin, from Huazhong Agricultural University, in Wuhan.
"Although the infection in stray cats could not be fully understood, it is reasonable to speculate that these infections are probably due to the contact with SARS-CoV-2 polluted environment, or COVID-19 patients who fed the cats," Jin said in a journal news release.
"Therefore, measures should be considered to maintain a suitable distance between COVID-19 patients and companion animals such as cats and dogs, and hygiene and quarantine measures should also be established for those high-risk animals," Jin noted.
One of the findings was that the antibodies response in cats infected with the new coronavirus was similar to that seen in response to seasonal coronavirus infections, which suggests that cats who've been infected with the new coronavirus "remain at risk of re-infection," according to the researchers.
This antibody response is similar to what's seen in humans.
"We suggest that cats have a great potential as an animal model for assessing the characteristic of antibody against SARS-CoV-2 in humans," the study authors concluded.