Study finds many more cats are infected with COVID-19 than expected

Many cats have been infected by the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19, more than previously expected, according to a new study that evaluated abandoned and surrendered felines in Wuhan, the epicenter of the current pandemic. According to the researchers, none of the cats showed symptoms of the disease, but many of them had neutralizing antibodies in their blood offering protection against the virus.

We've known for months now that cats and dogs can contract the virus behind COVID-19, but how common these infections are has largely remained a mystery. That changes, to a degree, with a new study published in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections. As part of their work, scientists swabbed and took blood samples from 102 cats that were sourced in Wuhan from January 2020 to March 2020.

Based on the swabs and blood samples, 15 of the 102 tested cats contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus as evidenced by antibodies in their blood. Of those 15, the researchers found that 11 of the samples contained 'neutralizing antibodies,' which are described as antibodies that are so effective against the virus that they prevent infection entirely.

Though these cats all tested positive for antibodies indicating the presence of the virus, none of the cats were noted to have any sort of obvious symptoms of the condition nor were there any reports of cats that had died in relation to the disease. The antibodies and lack of symptoms represent natural protection against the virus — natural protection not shared by humans.

According to the study, there's evidence that some of the cats passed on the virus to other cats, but there's no evidence that infected animals can pass the virus on to humans. However, it seems that humans can pass the virus on to cats as evidenced by the particularly high levels of antibodies found in cats owned by COVID-19 patients.