Two pet cats in New York state have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. Update: The Wildlife Conservation Society just announced that seven more of their big cats—four tigers and three lions at The Bronx Zoo—also have coronavirus.

These are, the agencies said, the first pets in the United States to "test positive for SARS-CoV-2." This comes a few weeks after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo was confirmed to have the illness. Experts do not believe that humans can get the virus from their pets, though their pets apparently can get it from their humans.

The cats, who live in different parts of New York, had mild respiratory illness and are expected to fully recover. From the CDC and USDA's press release:

[A] veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs. No individuals in the household were confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. The virus may have been transmitted to this cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home.

Samples from the second cat were taken after it showed signs of respiratory illness. The owner of the cat tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the cat showing signs. Another cat in the household has shown no signs of illness.

Apparently the cats were tested "presumed positive" at a private veterinary laboratory, and the CDC and USA said that the lab "then reported the results to state and federal officials. The confirmatory testing was conducted at NVSL and included collection of additional samples."

The agencies said that "State animal health and public health officials will take the lead in making determinations about whether animals should be tested for SARS-CoV-2... While additional animals may test positive as infections continue in people, it is important to note that performing this animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans."

Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the Wildlife Conservation Society revealed that the three tigers and three lions at The Bronx Zoo, who had also developed a dry cough and were presumed to have the virus, are confirmed to have COVID-19. Earlier, only theAmur tiger Nadia was given the test, which required anesthesia.

Now, the WCS explained this latest round of "testing was done by using a fecal sample test developed by our laboratory partners that does not require the animals be placed under anesthesia. The fecal tests confirmed our suspicion that all seven cats had the infection, and also determined that one tiger at Tiger Mountain that never developed a cough was also positive for the disease."

No tests meant for humans were used on the animals, according to the WCS, which added, "All eight cats continue to do well.  They are behaving normally, eating well, and their coughing is greatly reduced." They added that they conducted the testing to help with knowledge about the virus in animals.

In its statement about the two pet cats, the USDA and CDC also offered this guidance, as they learn more about the relationship of coronavirus between humans and animals:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

A cat in Belgium was believed to have COVID-19, after falling ill—and later traces of the virus were found in its vomit and feces. A Belgian virologist explained, "The feline ACE2 protein resembles the human ACE2 homologue, which is most likely the cellular receptor which is being used by Sars-CoV-2 for cell entry."

What is the ACE2? As Stat News put it, "In a healthy person, the ACE2 receptor chops up two forms of a protein called angiotensin to keep blood pressure stable, among other things. SARS and the novel coronavirus, however, use the receptor to infiltrate cells, according to a paper published in March in Cell. The virus can latch onto ACE2 and sneak inside, replicating itself inside the cell and then wreaking havoc throughout the body."

The USDA is listing all animals with coronavirus here; so far, all the animals are in the family Felidae and all are in New York.