SARS-CoV-2 infection, disease and transmission in domestic cats

Emerg Microbes Infect. 2020 Dec;9(1):2322-2332. doi: 10.1080/22221751.2020.1833687.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the cause of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and responsible for the current pandemic. Recent SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility studies in cats show that the virus can replicate in these companion animals and transmit to other cats. Here, we present an in-depth study of SARS-CoV-2 infection, disease and transmission in domestic cats. Cats were challenged with SARS-CoV-2 via intranasal and oral routes. One day post challenge (DPC), two sentinel cats were introduced. Animals were monitored for clinical signs, clinicopathological abnormalities and viral shedding. Postmortem examinations were performed at 4, 7 and 21 DPC. Viral RNA was not detected in blood but transiently in nasal, oropharyngeal and rectal swabs and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid as well as various tissues. Tracheobronchoadenitis of submucosal glands with the presence of viral RNA and antigen was observed in airways of the infected cats. Serology showed that both, principals and sentinels, developed antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. All animals were clinically asymptomatic during the course of the study and capable of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to sentinels. The results of this study are critical for understanding the clinical course of SARS-CoV-2 in a naturally susceptible host species, and for risk assessment.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; cats; felines; susceptibility; transmission.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / blood
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / chemistry
  • COVID-19
  • Cat Diseases / pathology
  • Cat Diseases / transmission*
  • Cat Diseases / virology
  • Cats
  • Cell Line
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Coronavirus Infections / veterinary*
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Male
  • Pandemics / veterinary*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / veterinary*
  • RNA, Viral / analysis
  • RNA, Viral / isolation & purification
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Vero Cells
  • Virus Replication


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • RNA, Viral

Grant support

Funding for this study was provided through grants from NBAF Transition Funds, the NIAID Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance under contract number HHSN 272201400006C and the Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases under grant number HSHQDC 16-A-B0006 to JAR. This study was also partially supported by the Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine start-up fund (PG 002165) to UBRB and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (58-32000-009-00D) to WCW, by the Center for Research for Influenza Pathogenesis (CRIP), a NIAID supported Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (CEIRS, contract # HHSN272201400008C), and by the generous support of the JPB Foundation, the Open Philanthropy Project (research grant 2020–215611 (5384)) and anonymous donors to AG-S.