There's a "surprisingly high chance" people who contract COVID-19 will pass it on to their pets, according to the author of a yet-to-be-published study, with cats especially susceptible. Researchers searched for antibodies in 48 cats and 54 dogs from 77 households where a prior COVID-19 infection was confirmed and found them in 67% of cats (32) and 43% of dogs (23), per Live Science. Researchers also tested 75 stray cats and 75 dogs and cats in animal shelters, and found they had far lower rates of antibodies. Just 3% of stray cats (2) and 9% of shelter animals overall (7) tested positive. That suggests human-to-animal transmission is at play, because the shelter animals have less contact with people. Indeed, there is no sign of transmission from pets to humans, as noted in a Dutch study that found some 20% of exposed pets were infected, per the BBC.
Owners reported that most pets with antibodies developed only mild symptoms, if any. Some 20% of pet dogs (11) were symptomatic with cough, loss of appetite, and reduced energy levels at the time their owners were sick, but recovered quickly. On the other hand, 27% of pet cats (13) had mild symptoms, including runny nose and difficulty breathing, while 6% (3) had severe symptoms. "Cats, especially those that sleep on their owner's bed, seem to be particularly vulnerable," lead author Dorothee Bienzle of Canada's University of Guelph says in a release. Researchers say the virus may bind more easily to the cell receptors of cats than dogs. But they also say cats may be more likely than dogs to sleep near an owner's face. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)