More than 350,000 cats in the UK have caught COVID-19 - study

Composite of a positive COVID test and a purring cat
More research is needed to determine the long-term impacts of the virus on cats' general health, including whether long COVID is presenting similarly to that in humans. Photo credit: Getty Images

As if catching COVID-19 wasn't bad enough, we've also been transmitting the virus to our furry friends, according to a new study. 

More than 350,000 cats in the United Kingdom contracted the novel coronavirus throughout the pandemic, according to the research, which was conducted by virologists and veterinarians at the University of Glasgow. 

While it was already known that cats were able to contract the virus - dogs appear to be immune - the number of infected felines had not been calculated until now. Scientists are now hoping the research will teach them more about the virus' long-term impacts on cats' general health. 

To conduct the research, swabs taken from 2309 cats that had a routine check-up at a veterinary clinic between April 2020 and February 2022 were analysed. The samples came from across the UK and were "broadly representative" of the country's domestic cat population, the scientists said. 

"We looked at over 2000 samples, and we are confident in saying that over three percent of the UK's cat population has been exposed to COVID and mounted a neutralising response, and this has been increasing," study author Grace Tyson, a PhD student at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, told The Telegraph

Although humans have been infecting their furry friends since COVID-19's arrival almost three years ago, there's only one documented case of a person catching COVID-19 from a cat. According to reports, the 10-year-old tabby - who was living in Thailand - became infected by its owners and later transmitted the virus to a 32-year-old vet while being swabbed.

"Cats that still became infected but did not produce particularly strong/effective antibody responses will not have been captured in this study, so it is likely that the number of UK cats exposed to COVID is greater than the 3.2 percent we found here," Tyson told The Telegraph.

It's not yet clear how coronavirus can impact cats' general health and wellbeing, but there is evidence that the virus can cause severe fever and respiratory illness as well as other complications. 

"This could have implications for feline health - the actual pathology of COVID in cats is not as well characterised as in humans, but we know of some quite severe cases of fever and respiratory illness in cats as well as some complications such as cardiac problems," Tyson said.

"In some cases, these clinical manifestations can be fatal or lead to euthanasia of the cat. We do not yet know the long-term effects of COVID in cats."

It's also currently unclear whether cats experience long COVID and if so, how this might present itself. In humans, long COVID is a general term used to describe symptoms that continue or develop after the initial illness and can't be explained by any other condition. Long COVID can affect any system of the body and the severity of symptoms as well as the type of symptoms may fluctuate and vary over time. 

In a nutshell, if you've contracted COVID-19 and your cat hasn't quite been the same since, perhaps this is your answer.