The first known case of a cat testing positive for the coronavirus has been reported in Belgium.
A domestic cat in Belgium has been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that's spreading across the globe, the government's FPS Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment announced March 27, according to news reports.
The sick pet in Liège tested positive after showing classic symptoms of COVID-19 – including difficulty breathing – a week after its owner first fell sick, health officials told a press conference, the Brussels Times reports.
While it is the first known infection of a cat, two dogs in Hong Kong have previously tested positive – with the first, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, dying after returning home from quarantine.
“The cat had diarrhea, kept vomiting and had breathing difficulties. The researchers found the virus in the cat’s feces,” professor Steven Van Gucht said Friday, according to the outlet.
Reports of the passage of the coronavirus between humans, dogs and cats has been extremely rare. While two dogs were reported to have contracted the coronavirus in Hong Kong, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says no evidence has been found that pets can spread the virus.
“At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States,” according to the CDC. “CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.”
Other experts say the same thing.
“There is no evidence at this time that dogs or cats can become ill due to the novel coronavirus,” said Gary Richter, a veterinarian on Rover’s Dog People Panel and author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide. “There have been cases of dogs testing weak positive when they have been living with an infected person, but it is not suspected these animals can pass the virus to humans.”
During the outbreak of another coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), dogs and cats contracted low levels of that virus, animal health expert Vanessa Barrs from City University told the South China Morning Post.
There have been no reports of pets passing the virus to their human owners, and Van Gucht stressed that even human-to-pet transmission is not a significant path of viral spread.
"We think the cat is a side victim of the ongoing epidemic in humans and does not play a significant role in the propagation of the virus," he said.
To prove definitively that the cat was infected with SARS-CoV-2, scientists will need a blood test to look for antibodies specific to this virus, Van Gucht said. Those tests will happen once the cat is no longer under quarantine.