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Occurrence of Antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in the Domestic Cat Population of Germany

Domestic cats (Felis catus) are popular companion animals that live in close contact with their human owners. Therefore, the risk of a trans-species spreading event between domestic cats and humans is ever-present. Shortly after the emergence of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and its rapid spread around the world, the role of domestic cats in the transmission cycle was questioned. In the present study, the first large-scale survey of antibody occurrence in the domestic cat population in Germany was conducted, in order to assess the incidence of naturally occurring human to cat transmission of SARS-CoV-2. A total of 920 serum samples, which were collected from April to September of 2020, were screened by an indirect multispecies ELISA. Positive samples were verified using an indirect immunofluorescence test (iIFT) and additionally tested for neutralizing antibodies. Furthermore, serum samples were screened for antibodies against feline coronavirus (FCoV), in order to rule out cross-reactivity in the described test systems. Overall, 0.69% (6/920) of serum samples were found to be positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 by ELISA and iIFT. Two of these reactive sera also displayed neutralizing antibodies. No cross-reactivity with FCoV-specific antibodies was observed. The finding of SARS-CoV-2 antibody-positive serum samples in the domestic cat population of Germany, during a period when the incidence of human infection in the country was still rather low, indicates that human-to-cat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 happens, but there is no indication of SARS-CoV-2 circulation in cats.

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