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SARS-CoV2 detection in a cat in Belgium

Discussion in 'Cat Chat' started by Ceiling Kitty, Mar 28, 2020.

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  1. Ceiling Kitty

    Ceiling Kitty Hides away from much through humour...

    Mar 7, 2010
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    Hi everyone, I hope you're all staying safe.

    I just thought I would comment on this, having spent all morning reading up on it.

    Tabloids and social media are sharing reports of a cat ‘infected with COVID-19 by its owner’. The official release from the Scientific Committee of the l’Agence Fédérale pour la Sécurité de la Chaîne Alimentaire (Belgian Federal Agency for Food Chain Safety) came out at the beginning of this week and contains the facts of the case and more balanced information.

    The Belgian cat case and testing for the virus

    The owner of the cat in question had returned from Italy, had tested positive for SARS-CoV2, and was isolating at home with symptoms of COVID-19. One week after their symptoms developed, their cat reportedly showed signs of reduced appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough and shallow breathing. The cat was at no point known to have been examined by a vet. Samples of vomit and faeces collected by the owner were submitted for PCR testing. The cat is now reportedly recovering from its symptoms.

    The nasal/throat swabs being collected from humans to test for SARS-CoV2 are also run via PCR. PCR is a very sensitive test that not only detects live virus particles, but will also detect dead virus - and even fragments of virus. All and any viral material detected will be reported as positive.

    In the Belgian case, viral material was identified in the vomit and faeces of a cat showing potentially compatible symptoms. Nobody knows whether this represented live virus particles, or dead virus/bits of dead virus. Given that the cat was living with a person suffering from COVID-19, it’s almost certain that the cat will have ingested viral material during grooming and other similar activities. We *cannot* know whether this positive test results means the cat had a true infection (it could do), or whether the viral material detected in these samples was simply present in the cat’s GI tract doing nothing (also very possible). As the samples were collected at home by the owner, contamination of the samples by the owner’s breath or hands has also not been ruled out.

    I’ve heard that genomic analysis to compare the virus detected in the cat with that present in its owner is currently under way; I haven’t seen any official confirmation of that but will certainly update if I do.

    As the cat was reportedly showing symptoms potentially compatible with COVID-19 (remember that it was not examined by a vet), it cannot be ruled out that this cat truly did have the disease. It warrants further consideration, but for now we just don’t know enough to say.

    Virus isolation and serology (blood sampling for antibodies) would be much more reliable ways of determining whether or not this cat (or any other) has been truly infected with SARS-CoV2, but I don't know how likely that is to happen in this case.

    The Belgian authorities are currently advocating caution in interpretation of the case, and are specifically advising against separate quarantine or euthanasia of pets living with infected humans.

    Is there any link with FIP?

    Cats of course are commonly infected with their own, longstanding ‘version’ of coronavirus – FECoV (feline enteric coronavirus). This virus is responsible for FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) in a small percentage of cases, where the virus mutates within an individual cat.

    This virus is NOT related to SARS-CoV2 or COVID-19 in humans or cats. While both are coronaviruses, they exist within different subfamilies (FECoV is an alphacoronavirus; SARS-CoV2 is a betacoronavirus).

    I have heard about the possibility of cross-reactivity between the two viruses on PCR testing, but will stress that I don’t yet know whether that can actually happen. I would suspect not. IDEXX (massive veterinary diagnostics lab) have stated that their tests will NOT cross-react, and are specific to each virus.

    Can SARS-CoV2 infect pets?

    As with so many other aspects of this disease – we just don’t know yet.

    IDEXX announced a couple of weeks ago that they had tested thousands of canine and feline samples for SARS-CoV2 and 100% were negative. Here’s the press release: https://www.idexx.co.uk/en-gb/about-idexx/no-covid-19-cases-pets/

    Bear in mind that the samples tested were those sent in for other diagnostics and only include samples from the USA and South Korea. They were randomly selected from their pool of samples and did NOT represent a population of animals known or suspected to have specifically been exposed to the virus. The nitty gritty is here: https://www.idexx.com/en/veterinary/reference-laboratories/idexx-sars-cov-2-covid-19-realpcr-test/

    During the outbreak of the original SARS-CoV back in 2003, a number of cats (and dogs) tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong. Shedding of the virus by deliberately infected cats was subsequently confirmed in controlled laboratory tests.

    So far during the current 2020 outbreak, two dogs in Hong Kong have returned positive tests. The Belgian cat is the first feline positive test reported. None of these three cases have yet been published with peer review, and may still yet represent human contamination.

    We do know that the cell receptor utilised by the SARS-CoV2 virus (ie the molecule it uses to attach to host cells) is the ACE2 receptor. This receptor is found on cells in the lung, kidney, GI tract and blood vessels. Researchers have predicted - but not proven - that the ACE2 receptors of cats (and dogs) are compatible with SARs-CoV2 in the same way. So it seems likely that *in theory* the virus could infect feline cells.

    Remember that there is more to infection than attachment of the virus. It also needs to be able to replicate within a host, avoid the host’s immune response and transmit to other hosts to truly cause concern. We don’t have any information on that in cats yet.

    (Interestingly, the ACE2 receptors of mice and rats do not appear compatible, meaning that they are probably resistant to SARS-CoV2. This somewhat hinders laboratory research on the disease, given how widely used these animals are in medical research.)

    The full information from Belgium:

    The full release from the Belgian authorities is available here: http://www.afsca.be/comitescientifi...d-19petitsanimauxdomestiques_27-03-20_001.pdf

    It is of course in French, so for non-French speakers I ran it through an online translator and will attach the English PDF. The translation is sometimes a little ropey, but it’s readable.

    An interesting aside

    As an interesting (and potentially exciting) aside that’s nothing to do with this case, there has been some cat-related speculation regarding remdesivir, an anti-viral drug developed in China and currently being trialled in human COVID-19 patients. This drug is very similar to GS-441524, one of the experimental compounds that has been used in the successful treatment of FIP in cats. Currently GS-441524 does not exist in any official form and is available only through ‘black-market’ means (partially due to blocking of its use in animals by the developers of remdesivir). One can hope that if remdesivir does become readily available for humans in the future, it may pave the way to a more ‘official’ treatment for FIP in cats. A statement by Dr. Niels Pedersen (world-leading authority on FIP in cats) can be read here, if you’re interested:


    Good luck out there xxx
  2. ChaosCat

    ChaosCat PetForums VIP

    Dec 7, 2017
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    KoolK, Cully, ewelsh and 2 others like this.
  3. SusieRainbow

    SusieRainbow Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jan 21, 2013
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    THanks so much for the carification CK.!
    Cully and MissMiloKitty like this.
  4. MissMiloKitty

    MissMiloKitty PetForums VIP

    Dec 5, 2017
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    Thanks for this post.
  5. OrientalSlave

    OrientalSlave Shunra Oriental Cats

    Jan 26, 2012
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    Thanks for a comprehensive and thoughtful post.
  6. Trixie1

    Trixie1 PetForums VIP

    Sep 14, 2010
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    Thank you CK, you stay safe too.
    Lurcherlad likes this.
  7. lymorelynn

    lymorelynn UN Peacekeeper in training
    Staff Member

    Oct 4, 2008
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    Thank you for taking the time and effort to post this information CK. It's good to see you here, even if it's at such a worrying time.
    Take care of yourself and stay safe.
    Cully, chillminx and ewelsh like this.
  8. lorilu

    lorilu PetForums VIP

    Sep 6, 2009
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    Thanks for the voice of reason @Ceiling Kitty . I appreciate you taking the time to post. xx
  9. Bertie'sMum

    Bertie'sMum Obedient Cat Slave

    Mar 27, 2017
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    Thank you so much @Ceiling Kitty :)

    p.s. we've really missed you - hope you and yours (furry or otherwise) are all well:)
  10. ewelsh

    ewelsh PetForums VIP

    Jan 26, 2011
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    Thank you @Ceiling Kitty so kind of you to take the time to post this information and for thinking of us.

    Stay safe x
    Cully likes this.
  11. MilleD

    MilleD PetForums VIP

    Feb 15, 2016
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    Thanks for this @Ceiling Kitty . I've missed you, hope you are keeping well.

  12. chillminx

    chillminx PetForums VIP

    Nov 22, 2010
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    Thank you very much @Ceiling Kitty for a brilliant and informative post! :)

    We have really missed you.

    Best wishes to you, and please stay safe. xx
    KoolK and Cully like this.
  13. kimthecat

    kimthecat PetForums VIP

    Aug 11, 2009
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    Thank you ! Its good to see you again :) How are you coping at the vets ?
  14. Emmasian

    Emmasian PetForums VIP

    Aug 22, 2015
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    Good to see you and thank you so much. Stay safe xx
  15. Polly G

    Polly G PetForums VIP

    Apr 30, 2013
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    Thank you for a very informative post. I have really missed your posts and hope you are well x
  16. Tigermoon

    Tigermoon PetForums VIP

    Apr 2, 2013
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    Thank you CK. It's good to hear from you again. Stay safe x
  17. Willow_Warren

    Willow_Warren PetForums VIP

    Feb 12, 2018
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    So lovely to see you @Ceiling Kitty (shame about the circumstances), and thank you for such an informative post.
  18. GingerNinja

    GingerNinja PetForums VIP

    Mar 23, 2014
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    Thank you for such a sensible post xx
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