Detection of SARS‐CoV‐2 in respiratory samples from cats in the UK associated with human‐to‐cat transmission

Margaret J. Hosie*, Ilaria Epifano, Vanessa Herder, Richard J. Orton, Andrew Stevenson, Natasha Johnson, Emma MacDonald, Dawn Dunbar, Michael McDonald, Fiona Howie, Bryn Tennant, Darcy Herrity, Ana Da Silva Filipe, Daniel G. Streicker, Brian J. Willett, Pablo R. Murcia, Ruth F. Jarrett, David L. Robertson, William Weir, the COVID‐19 Genomics UK (COG‐UK) consortium

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Objectives: The aim of the study was to find evidence of SARS‐CoV‐2 infection in UK cats. Design: Tissue samples were tested for SARS‐CoV‐2 antigen using immunofluorescence and for viral RNA by in situ hybridisation. A set of 387 oropharyngeal swabs that had been submitted for routine respiratory pathogen testing was tested for SARS‐CoV‐2 RNA using reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR. Results: Lung tissue collected post‐mortem from cat 1 tested positive for both SARS‐CoV‐2 nucleocapsid antigen and RNA. SARS‐CoV‐2 RNA was detected in an oropharyngeal swab collected from cat 2 that presented with rhinitis and conjunctivitis. High throughput sequencing of the viral genome revealed five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) compared to the nearest UK human SARS‐CoV‐2 sequence, and this human virus contained eight SNPs compared to the original Wuhan‐Hu‐1 reference sequence. An analysis of the viral genome of cat 2 together with nine other feline‐derived SARS‐CoV‐2 sequences from around the world revealed no shared cat‐specific mutations. Conclusions: These findings indicate that human‐to‐cat transmission of SARS‐CoV‐2 occurred during the COVID‐19 pandemic in the UK, with the infected cats developing mild or severe respiratory disease. Given the ability of the new coronavirus to infect different species, it will be important to monitor for human‐to‐cat, cat‐to‐cat and cat‐to‐human transmission.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere247
JournalVeterinary Record
Issue number8
Early online date22 Apr 2021
Publication statusFirst published - 22 Apr 2021


  • cats
  • COVID‐19
  • reverse zoonosis
  • SARS‐CoV‐2


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