After months of research, science finally found preliminary evidence that could reveal one of the mysteries about COVID-19 that was not letting us sleep at night: whether or not our pets can become infected. Preliminary analysis indicates that some cats and dogs have neutralizing antibodies to the virus.
Understanding and studying the role of pets in this pandemic has been very difficult because scientific research has to be and has been focused on human health. It is only now the first analyses on the matter are beginning to emerge and with very promising results.
“Our results clearly suggest that pets can become infected only sporadically, so they are unlikely to represent a source of infection for humans,” Nicola Decaro, a veterinary virologist at Bari University, told Medical Press (MP).
What does the study say?
After analyzing samples from more than 500 pets in northern Italy, scientists from the LSTM, the University of Liverpool and the Universities of Bari and Milan, obtained evidence that no animal tested positive for the COVID-19, and that 3.4% of dogs and 3.9% of cats had ” measurable neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2″. The preliminary results of the study, which have not yet been reviewed by experts, were published in BioRxiv.
However, Professor Alan Radford of the Liverpool Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network and one of the researchers clarified to MP that although none of the animals tested “was eliminating the virus at the time of sampling,” it is highly likely that pets living in households where people are infected with COVID-19, “almost certainly they have the virus”.
“Our research adds to the evidence that they may also be infected. However, we must keep this in context. There is no evidence that pets transmit this virus to people. The overwhelming majority of infected people seem to get COVID-19 from other people they contact, and that’s why following local guidelines on social estrangement and hygiene remains critical,” he added.
Scientists measured the ability of animal’s serums to neutralize a laboratory-produced SARS-CoV-2 isolate. “The levels of antibodies found were surprising and suggest that we need to continue such studies in the future,” said Dr Ian Patterson of LSTM, responsible for conducting the serological trials of the study.
“It was particularly interesting to see that the presence of antibodies in dogs, but not in cats, was linked to the state of COVID-19 at home, which perhaps suggests that interactions between owners and dogs in the natural conditions of pet tenure may make them more susceptible,” he added.
The authors call for the work to continue to focus on better understanding the implications of COVID-19 on pets, particularly those living in homes with infected people.
“We should not devalue vital research in humans,” said Professor Radford, “but when disease in the human population is further reduced and human contact tracking is accessible, we may need to know that our furry friends are not even helping to keep SARS-CoV-2 in the population.”