Cats can spread the CCP virus to other felines, researchers found.
One day after inoculation, a cat with no previous virus infection was placed with each of the infected cats in their cages.
One of the cats became infected by day three, and by day six all three were infected.
Researchers also detected the virus on day one from two of the inoculated cats and on day three from the other.
“With reports of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to domestic cats and to tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo, coupled with our data showing the ease of transmission between domestic cats, there is a public health need to recognize and further investigate the potential chain of human-cat-human transmission,” researchers wrote.
“Given the need to stop the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic through various mechanisms, including breaking transmission chains, a better understanding of the role cats may play in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans is needed.”
The study, published as a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, received funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.
Many people live with cats, researchers noted, including a number who are under stay-at-home orders.
Cats may not show visible symptoms of the CCP virus, making them a potential silent intermediate host.
The research was carried out by Japanese scientists and professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Peter Halfmann, a research professor at the university, said in a statement that people should keep in mind that they can pass the virus to their animals.
But Keith Poulsen, director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, said in a statement that “cats are still much more likely to get COVID-19 from you, rather than you get it from a cat.”
COVID-19 is the disease the CCP virus causes.
There is no evidence at this time that cats can transmit the virus to humans.
Experts recommend limiting interactions with one’s pets if the person tests positive for the CCP virus. Pets should also be kept indoors. If taken outdoors, authorities recommend following social distancing guidelines.
The first documented case of a cat testing positive for the new illness appeared to happen in late March in Belgium. Two cats tested positive for the virus in the United States last month and more have tested positive since then.
A number of large cats at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive in April, including tigers and lions.
Chinese researchers found in an earlier study that cats are highly susceptible to contracting the CCP virus, as are ferrets.
Cats can also infect each other, the researchers found.
“Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in cats should be considered as an adjunct to the elimination of COVID-19 in humans,” the authors wrote.
Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.