Experimental infection of domestic dogs and cats with SARS-CoV-2: Pathogenesis, transmission, and response to reexposure in cats

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Oct 20;117(42):26382-26388. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2013102117. Epub 2020 Sep 29.


The pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has reached nearly every country in the world with extraordinary person-to-person transmission. The most likely original source of the virus was spillover from an animal reservoir and subsequent adaptation to humans sometime during the winter of 2019 in Wuhan Province, China. Because of its genetic similarity to SARS-CoV-1, it is probable that this novel virus has a similar host range and receptor specificity. Due to concern for human-pet transmission, we investigated the susceptibility of domestic cats and dogs to infection and potential for infected cats to transmit to naive cats. We report that cats are highly susceptible to infection, with a prolonged period of oral and nasal viral shedding that is not accompanied by clinical signs, and are capable of direct contact transmission to other cats. These studies confirm that cats are susceptible to productive SARS-CoV-2 infection, but are unlikely to develop clinical disease. Further, we document that cats developed a robust neutralizing antibody response that prevented reinfection following a second viral challenge. Conversely, we found that dogs do not shed virus following infection but do seroconvert and mount an antiviral neutralizing antibody response. There is currently no evidence that cats or dogs play a significant role in human infection; however, reverse zoonosis is possible if infected owners expose their domestic pets to the virus during acute infection. Resistance to reinfection holds promise that a vaccine strategy may protect cats and, by extension, humans.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; cats; experimental infection; transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / blood
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology
  • Antigens, Viral / immunology
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology
  • Betacoronavirus / pathogenicity*
  • COVID-19
  • Cats
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Virus Shedding


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antigens, Viral