Exploring effects of COVID-19 exposure in pet cats and dogs in Minnesota

August 23, 2021
dog licks cat

The New York Times recently highlighted a study conducted by VBS Professors, Hinh Ly and Yuying Liang, and their research team in the write up, "Cats Are Better Than Dogs (at Catching the Coronavirus)," by Sabrina Imbler. In 2020 the Coronavirus pandemic affected human populations worldwide, including here at home in Minnesota. There have been many studies on the affects of COVID-19 on the human population but not many linking pet cats and dogs to the virus. The aim of this study was to test cats and dogs for antibodies, which would reveal past infection of the COVID-19 virus.

The paper, "Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) exposure in pet cats and dogs in Minnesota, USA," was published in Virulence, and written by first author, Mythili Dileepan, lays out the lab's detailed investigation. The paper closely explores companion animals because they can serve as sentinels for a wide range of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

A serological survey was conducted with 239 cat sera and 510 dog sera collected at the Veterinary Medical Center, University of Minnesota, during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic from mid-April to mid-June of 2020.

In the end, the researchers found that 8% of cats carried antibodies for the coronavirus and less than 1% of dogs did, suggesting that cats were more susceptible to the infection. One possibility for these results is that cats carry an ACE2 protein that is genetically similar to the human ACE2 protein, which allows for virus infection. But animal behavior could be a factor as well. Ly suggests that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 should avoid kissing or cuddling all beloved household members, including furry family members (cats and dogs).