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Dogs and Cats Are Less Susceptible to the Omicron Variant of Concern of SARS-CoV-2: A Field Study in Germany, 2021/2022

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused a pandemic of unprecedented extent. Besides humans, a number of animal species can be infected; however, in some species, differing susceptibilities were observed depending on the virus variant. Here, we serologically investigated cats and dogs living in households with human COVID-19 patients. The study was conducted during the transition period from delta as the dominating variant of concern (VOC) to omicron (BA.1/BA.2) to investigate the frequency of virus transmission of both VOCs from infected owners to their pets. The animal sera were tested by surrogate virus neutralization tests (sVNT) using either the original receptor-binding domain (RBD), enabling the detection of antibodies against the delta variant, or an omicron-specific RBD. Of the 290 canine samples, 20 tested positive by sVNT, but there were marked differences between the sampling time and, related thereto, the virus variants the dogs had contact to. While in November 2021, infected owners led to 50% seropositive dogs (18/36), only 0.8% (2/254) of animals with household contacts to SARS-CoV-2 between December 2021 and April 2022 tested positive. In all cases, the positive reaction was recorded against the original RBD. For cats, a similar pattern was seen, as in November 2021, 38.1% (16/42) tested positive, and between December 2021 and March 2022, only 5.0% (10/199). The markedly reduced ratio of seropositive animals during the period of omicron circulation suggests a considerably lower susceptibility of dogs and cats to this VOC. To examine the effect of further omicron subvariants, sera taken in the second and third quarter of 2022 from randomly selected cats were investigated. 2.3% (11/372) tested seropositive, and all of them showed a stronger reaction against the original RBD, further supporting the assumption of a lower susceptibility of companion animals to the omicron VOC.



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