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Liverpool scientists find COVID-19 antibodies in pets

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A small number of cats and dogs in Italy are carrying SARS-CoV-2, but researchers say that there's no evidence of pets passing Coronavirus onto people.

By Zoë Monk

Published on the 05/03/2021, 18:00

Scientists have been exploring whether cats and dogs are susceptible to COVID-19. During their research, they made the startling discovery that some pets in Italy carry neutralising antibodies to the virus. 

Researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the University of Liverpool and the Universities of Bari and Milan took samples from more than 900 pets in Northern Italy.

SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies

The study, published in Nature Communications, is the largest study of its kind in the world so far. It discovered that while none of the animals tested PCR positive for the actual virus, 3.3% of dogs and 5.8% of cats did have SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, dogs from households where family members had tested positive for COVID-19 were much more likely to test positive than those living in homes clear of the virus.

The scientists were surprised at the levels of antibodies found in the animals. They were also interested to note that there was a presence of antibodies in dogs but not cats, despite both living in households with family members testing positive for COVID-19. This could suggest that the way owners and dogs interact makes our canine companions more susceptible.

Worried about your cat or dog - or both? Check our advice on how to make an appointment with a vet.

Unlikely to infect humans

Researchers took samples from pets in areas of Italy where there has been a high rate of COVID-19. The results show that the virus can infect pets, but only sporadically. This means that the animals are unlikely to pass on the infection to humans. There's no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to humans. Most people who test positive for the virus are infected after contact with someone with the virus. This is why handwashing and social distancing is still important.

But, pet owners should be aware that if a household has COVID-19, pets will likely have the virus on them and be infected. Fortunately, this doesn't mean you should stop stroking your four-legged friends. 

The priority for future research will continue to focus on humans. But scientists believe that to help us take control of the pandemic, we need a better understanding of the role our animals play.

See also: 'Reject' guide dogs are put to good use in the fight gainst Covid-19