Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) exposure in pet cats and dogs in Minnesota, USA

Virulence. 2021 Dec;12(1):1597-1609. doi: 10.1080/21505594.2021.1936433.


The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is continuing to spread globally. SARS-CoV-2 infections of feline and canine species have also been reported. However, it is not entirely clear to what extent natural SARS-CoV-2 infection of pet dogs and cats is in households. We have developed enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) using recombinant SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein and the receptor-binding-domain (RBD) of the spike protein, and the SARS-CoV-2 spike-pseudotyped vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)-based neutralization assay to screen serum samples of 239 pet cats and 510 pet dogs in Minnesota in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic from mid-April to early June 2020 for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 exposures. A cutoff value was used to identify the seropositive samples in each experiment. The average seroprevalence of N- and RBD-specific antibodies in pet cats were 8% and 3%, respectively. Among nineteen (19) N-seropositive cat sera, fifteen (15) exhibited neutralizing activity and seven (7) were also RBD-seropositive. The N-based ELISA is also specific and does not cross react with antigens of common feline coronaviruses. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were detected at a very low percentage in pet dogs (~ 1%) and were limited to IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 N protein with no neutralizing activities. Our results demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 seropositive rates are higher in pet cats than in pet dogs in MN early in the pandemic and that SARS-CoV-2 N-specific IgG antibodies can detect SARS-CoV-2 infections in companion animals with higher levels of specificity and sensitivity than RBD-specific IgG antibodies in ELISA-based assays.

Keywords: COVID-19; Elisa; SARS-CoV-2; cat; dog; feline coronaviruses; neutralization antibodies; seroprevalence; zoonoses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / blood
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / veterinary*
  • COVID-19 Serological Testing / veterinary*
  • Cats
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins / immunology
  • Coronavirus, Feline / immunology
  • Coronavirus, Feline / isolation & purification
  • Dogs
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay / veterinary
  • Minnesota / epidemiology
  • Pets / virology*
  • Phosphoproteins / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / immunology


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • nucleocapsid phosphoprotein, SARS-CoV-2
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2