CATS may be able to spread coronavirus to humans despite showing no symptoms, experts have warned.
There have been several cases of cats testing positive for Covid-19 around the world after apparently catching it from humans.
And virus expert Peter Halfmann revealed fears the deadly bug could be passed the other way – from cats to humans.
He issued the warning after carrying out a study which suggested for the first time that cats can catch the bug from each other.
Halfmann and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine led the lab experiment and published their results on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers took coronavirus samples from a human patient and infected three cats with it.
Each cat was then housed with another cat that was free of infection.
Within five days, coronavirus was found in all three of the newly exposed animals.
None of the six cats ever showed any symptoms.
There is the possibility that these cats are shedding … and that somehow people could possibly pick up the virus.”Peter Halfmann, Virus Expert
Halfmann said: “There was no sneezing, no coughing, they never had a high body temperature or lost any weight.
“If a pet owner looked at them … they wouldn’t have noticed anything.”
The scientist said his study showed the need for more research into whether the virus can spread from cats to people.
There has been no proven case of a human catching coronavirus from a cat.
But Halfmann urged caution.
He said: “Considering the amount of virus we found coming out of the noses of the cats … there is the possibility that these cats are shedding – fomites are being released in a person’s household or at cat shelters or human societies and that somehow people could possibly pick up the virus.
“I think it’s something people should be aware of.”
The researcher said pet owners should avoid kissing their animals and keep surfaces clean to cut the chances of potential transmission.
However, health experts have downplayed the possibility that cats can give coronavirus to humans.
Guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention say that based on the limited information available so far, the risk of pets spreading coronavirus to people is considered to be low.
And the American Veterinary Medical Association says there is no evidence to suggest animals that may be incidentally infected by humans, are helping to spread Covid-19.
It stressed that person-to-person transmission was driving the global pandemic.
But the group noted that many diseases spread between pets and people, so hygiene is always important.
Commenting on the study, the veterinary medicine group added that just because an animal can be deliberately infected with Covid-19 in a lab doesn’t mean it will easily be infected with that same virus under natural conditions.
Last month, two domestic cats in different parts of New York State tested positive for coronavirus after mild respiratory illnesses.
They were thought to have picked it up from people in their homes or neighborhoods.
Some tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo also have tested positive for the virus, as have a small number of other animals around the world.
Dogs have also reportedly tested positive for Covid-19, with a pug in North Carolina reportedly becoming the first dog in the US.
The first widely reported case was the pet dog of a coronavirus patient which was tested and quarantined in Hong Kong.