More cats are contracting coronavirus than earlier speculated, says a new study by China’s Huazhong Agricultural University. The study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Emerging Microbes & Infections .

The researchers analysed samples taken from 102 cats between January-March 2020, after the first outbreak in China. They found that the antibodies against COVID-19 were present in only 15 of the blood samples. Of these, 11 had neutralising antibodies.

The study revealed that the naturally developed antibodies in cats fight the coronavirus. However, there are chances of reinfection. According to the results of return visits, none of the cats actually tested positive for COVID-19 or demonstrated typical symptoms of the virus. None of them died.

The sample population of cats included 46 abandoned from three animal shelters, 41 from five pet hospitals, and 15 from COVID-19 patient families. Three cats with the highest levels of antibodies were all owned by patients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to Meilin Jin, lead author of the study, while there is currently no evidence for cat-to-human transmission, precautions should be considered. “Although the infection in stray cats could not be fully understood, it is reasonable to speculate that these infections are probably due to the contact with SARS-CoV-2 polluted environment, or COVID-19 patients who fed the cats.”

“Therefore, measures should be considered to maintain a suitable distance between COVID-19 patients and companion animals such as cats and dogs, and hygiene and quarantine measures should also be established for those high-risk animals,” Jin added.