In a joint statement on Monday, the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and Animal and Plant Health Agency announced that a pet cat has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes a COVID-19 infection in humans.
The confirmed case marks the first time an animal in the country has contracted the virus, officials said, adding that there is currently “no evidence to suggest that the animal was involved in [the] transmission of the disease to its owners or that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the virus to people.”
The cat likely contracted the virus from its owners, who at one point tested positive for COVID-19. The cat and its owners have since recovered, and no other animals or people in the household have contracted the virus, said the release.
The case was first identified after a private vet diagnosed the cat with feline herpes virus, what officials said is a “common respiratory infection” in cats. However, as part of a research program, the same sample was also tested for the novel virus and was ultimately positive.
Officials at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratory in Weybridge confirmed the results on July 22.
“This is a very rare event with infected animals detected to date only showing mild clinical signs and recovering within a few days,” said Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss in a statement.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said in a statement that the case “should not be a cause for alarm.”
“The investigation into this case suggests that the infection was spread from humans to animal, and not the other way round. At this time, there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease to humans,” Doyle said. “In line with the general advice on fighting coronavirus, you should wash your hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.”
Since the pandemic began, there have been various reports of cats — both domestic and wild — contracting the virus from humans. Dogs in the U.S. also have tested positive for the virus. A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for the coronavirus in early April after likely being exposed to it by an infected worker. Then, later that same month, two cats in New York became the first pets in the U.S. to test positive.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in May found that cats can pass the novel coronavirus to each other, even if they don’t show symptoms.
The study involved six cats, three of which were inoculated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes a COVID-19 infection.
The other three were then exposed to the inoculated cats; each healthy cat was housed in a cage with one of the infected felines to “assess whether transmission of the virus by direct contact would occur between the cats in each of the three pairs,” the researchers wrote.
Soon after, the virus was detected in all three of the previously uninfected cats, nasal swabs showed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance to pet owners amid the pandemic, advising any sick owners to "restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would with people" until COVID-19 is better understood.