Predictors for SARS-CoV-2 Seropositivity in Owned and Feral Cats in North Georgia

Sarah Blankespoor, a student at California Polytechnic University, worked in the lab of Dr. Mark Tompkins

Abstract Little is known about the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in animal populations. Cats are a host for the virus, with cat-to-cat transmission demonstrated in lab settings. Both feral and owned cats interact with many species and could drive interspecies transmission. This project investigates dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 by evaluating seropositivity predictors in cats. Serum samples were taken from owned cats brought to the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital from 08/2021-06/2022 and feral cats captured locally from 01/2022-06/2022. Samples were tested for anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies using indirect ELISAs. For feral cats with n=33, none of the samples were positive. For owned cats with n=193, 10 of the samples were positive (5.2%). There is preliminary evidence for lasting antibodies with two repeat positive cats, with samples taken up to 3 months apart. Binary logistic regression models for the owned cats were determined in R through multi-model inference. Two terms were present in the 3 equivalent best models: cumulative human COVID-19 cases by county, with a positive coefficient; and days since the pandemic started, with a negative coefficient. These results suggest that cats acquire SARS-CoV-2 infections from humans rather than other cats or wildlife. The negative coefficient for time in the models can be explained by the delta and omicron surges at the beginning of the study period. SARS-CoV-2 surges in humans have a ripple effect into the larger ecosystem, particularly for cats owned by humans with COVID-19. Future research should continue to investigate this impact over a larger time scale and expand feral cat sample size to confirm observed trends.