CDC, local organizations team up to conduct study on coronavirus in cats

The Austin Humane Society and the Austin Animal Center have teamed up with Texas A&M and the Texas Department of State Health Services to be involved in a CDC lead study on coronavirus in cats. The study specifically focuses on feral cats.

"We know that cats can get infected, and we've seen cats like lions in zoos and pet cats that have come down with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID 19, but they've been in known contact with a person. These are kitties that are not living in people's homes. They're essentially wildlife," said Dr. Katie Luke, Chief Operations Officer Austin Humane Society.

Dr. Luke says the study will take place over a six-month time frame with 1,000 cats to see if COVID-19 can spread animal to animal. A potential factor that has not been tested for.

"That's always something that is of concern. If we see viruses mutating in animal hosts, you always get concerned that it'll mutate to something that's more deadly or that that could suddenly spread in a different way, so it's really just more surveillance to try to see what is out there," she said.

Dr. Luke says this study will cause no harm to the cats involved.

"These kitties are cats that are coming in for spay and neuter surgery and they're returned back to their natural habitats after surgery just like they are now so there's no harm coming to them. We're sampling by basically just a swab of the back of their throat and then sending [the cats] back on their merry way," she said.

Other agencies across the nation are taking part in this study with different animals. Austin is covering cats. The results of this study will be shared with the CDC to find out additional ways to be more proactive and ready for the next virus.

"It's just to learn more in general about how coronaviruses work and behave so that hopefully we can, as a scientific community, work towards better prevention for humans and better care overall is the goal," said Dr. Luke.

So far, around 20-30 cats have been tested and results are pending at a lab at Texas A&M.