Study Shows Case of Likely Cat-to-Human Virus Spread, but Risk Remains Low

A veterinarian in Thailand likely contracted the coronavirus from an infected pet cat last year, researchers concluded in a new study. It is the first documented case of suspected cat-to-human transmission, although experts stress that the risk of cats infecting humans with the virus remains low overall.

One of the cat’s two owners, who both had Covid-19, probably passed the virus to the cat, which then sneezed in the veterinarian’s face, according to the paper, which was written by scientists at Thailand’s Prince of Songkla University. Genomic sequencing confirmed that the cat and all three people were infected with an identical version of the virus, which was not widespread in the local population at the time.

Cats are far more likely to catch the virus from people than to transmit it to them, scientists say. But the case is a reminder that people who are infected with the virus should take precautions around their pets — and that veterinarians and shelter workers who may come into contact with infected animals should do the same, said Dr. Scott Weese, an infectious diseases veterinarian at the University of Guelph in Ontario.