Immune Responses and Pathogenesis following Experimental SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Domestic Cats

Sandra Vreman*, Elisabeth M.D.L. van der Heijden, Lars Ravesloot, Irene S. Ludwig, Judith M.A. van den Brand, Frank Harders, Andries A. Kampfraath, Herman F. Egberink, Jose L. Gonzales, Nadia Oreshkova, Femke Broere, Wim H.M. van der Poel, Nora M. Gerhards*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Several reports demonstrated the susceptibility of domestic cats to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Here, we describe a thorough investigation of the immune responses in cats after experimental SARS-CoV-2 inoculation, along with the characterization of infection kinetics and pathological lesions. Specific pathogen-free domestic cats (n = 12) were intranasally inoculated with SARS-CoV-2 and subsequently sacrificed on DPI (days post-inoculation) 2, 4, 7 and 14. None of the infected cats developed clinical signs. Only mild histopathologic lung changes associated with virus antigen expression were observed mainly on DPI 4 and 7. Viral RNA was present until DPI 7, predominantly in nasal and throat swabs. The infectious virus could be isolated from the nose, trachea and lungs until DPI 7. In the swab samples, no biologically relevant SARS-CoV-2 mutations were observed over time. From DPI 7 onwards, all cats developed a humoral immune response. The cellular immune responses were limited to DPI 7. Cats showed an increase in CD8+ cells, and the subsequent RNA sequence analysis of CD4+ and CD8+ subsets revealed a prominent upregulation of antiviral and inflammatory genes on DPI 2. In conclusion, infected domestic cats developed a strong antiviral response and cleared the virus within the first week after infection without overt clinical signs and relevant virus mutations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1052
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • cats
  • CD4 and CD8
  • COVID-19
  • immunology
  • intranasal inoculation
  • pathology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • viral shedding


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