Limited cross-species transmission and absence of mutations associated with SARS-CoV-2 adaptation in cats: a case study of infection in a small household setting.
In the present study, the course of SARS-CoV-2 natural infection in two asymptomatic cats, which were negative for immunosuppressive retroviral infections, is investigated. The source of the virus for the cats was their COVID-19-affected owner, with whom they were in continuous proximity in a small household setting. The owner's signs included fatigue, sneezing, anosmia and loss of taste, and diagnosis was confirmed 4 days after symptom onset. Oropharyngeal and faecal swabs were collected from the cats, to investigate the course of SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations, as well as the directionality of the chain of virus transmission. Both infected cats were real-time RT-PCR-positive on various time-points. Pharyngeal shedding of at least 6 days was observed in them, with high SARS-CoV-2 titres (> 7 Log10 copies/swab) on the first sampling time-point, that is, 7 days after the onset of owner's clinical signs. In one cat, after the initial decline, slightly increasing virus titres were measured 3 to 6 days after the first real-time RT-PCR-positive swab. Serological testing of this cat revealed absence of seroconversion. The course of viral RNA concentrations in the faecal swabs of the other cat was similar to that in its pharynx. The detected SARS-CoV-2 strains, from both infected cats and their owner, underwent whole-genome sequencing, revealing the absence of emergence of cross-species adaptive mutations in cats. The results support the notion that human SARS-CoV-2 strains are relatively well-adapted to cats. It is still unclear whether asymptomatic animals could play a role in COVID-19 epidemiology, in case of interaction with naïve animals and/or people. Our findings highlight difficulties in SARS-CoV-2 transmission to cats, as neither the two infected cats nor their owner was able to transmit the virus to a third cat living in the same small flat, despite their very close contact during the days corresponding to high virus shedding.