REPORTS of pet cats and dogs catching covid-19 from their owners are mounting. They come as no surprise to virologist Gary Whittaker. For the past year, he has surveyed cats brought to a veterinary hospital around the corner from New York Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side, which was ground zero for covid-19 in the US last spring. His unpublished findings suggest that around 15 to 20 per cent of pet cats in the area have antibodies for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19. “Cats are easily exposed,” says Whittaker. Yet most of them are doing fine, as are infected dogs. “What’s puzzling is that cats are dealing with it pretty well, but they can’t cope with their own coronavirus.”
It is alarming to think that we might pass SARS-CoV-2 to our pets. But most people are unaware that cats have coronavirus of their own. And they aren’t alone: coronaviruses commonly infect a range of domestic animals, including dogs, pigs, cattle and chickens. Yet, while SARS-CoV-2 has become probably the most scrutinised virus ever, very little attention has been paid to these other coronaviruses.
That is a missed opportunity because veterinary virologists have been studying them for decades. “Animal coronaviruses have lots to teach us about interspecies transmission, pathogenesis, immunity and vaccines,” says Linda Saif, an expert in coronaviruses of livestock at Ohio State University. This information could be extremely valuable as we try to work out where SARS-CoV-2 came from and where it might …
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