Could cats hold the key to a COVID-19 vaccine?

Coronavirus

A British Black Silver Tabby adult male cat is judged at the 42nd ‘Supreme Cat Show’ organised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy and held in the NEC, Birmingham, central England on October 27, 2018. – The one-day Supreme Cat Show is one of the largest cat fancy competitions in Europe with over 800 cats being exhibited. Exhibitors aim to have their cat named as the show’s ‘Supreme Exhibit’ from the winners of the individual categories of: Supreme Adult, Supreme Kitten and Supreme Neuter. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

DALLAS (NEXSTAR) — A new scientific report reveals cats develop an effective immune response to COVID-19 upon reinfection, leading researchers to wonder whether it’s worth studying pets to aid in the development of a human vaccine.

The pilot study assessed domestic dogs and cats for susceptibility to infection and while dogs did not appear to shed virus, cats shed virus for up to 5 days and could infect other cats via direct contact.

“We document that cats developed a robust neutralizing antibody response that prevented reinfection following a second viral challenge,” said researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article confirming cats and dogs can get the coronavirus but are unlikely to get sick.

“Resistance to reinfection holds promise that a vaccine strategy may protect cats and, by extension, humans,” researchers behind the study from Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences wrote.

While scientists found cats can pass the virus to other cats, they discovered no proof that the animals can pass COVID-19 to humans.

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“While animals, including domestic animals and pets, are frequently implicated as the source of emerging pathogens, reverse zoonosis of SARS-CoV-2 is more probable, as human cases are far more prevalent than domestic animals and there is no evidence to date of infected cats or dogs transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to humans,” said the researchers.

At this point, it’s unclear why cats develop “significant neutralizing antibody titers (concentration of antibodies) and are resistant to reinfection” to COVID-19. While the immune response is significant, it’s not clear how long immunity lasts.

“This could prove a useful measurement for subsequent vaccine trials for both human and animal vaccine candidates,” researchers wrote.

The authors of the report say despite more than 1 million human deaths, there are only a handful of fatalities linked to COVID-19 with animals.

In the experimental work, researchers infected dogs and cats in a lab environment. It’s worth noting that other studies have found dog-to-dog transmission.

To keep your cats safe from COVID-19, the researchers behind the paper suggest you keep cats indoors and observe social distancing with pets in the event a human in your household falls ill.

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