NEW YORK: Two cats in New York have become the first pets in the United States to test positive for the new coronavirus but there is no evidence pets can spread the virus to humans, according to US health authorities.
The cats, from separate areas of New York state, had mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery.
It is believed that they contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A tiger and a lion, also in New York, were earlier this month identified as infected with the new coronavirus.
New York City is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, which like much of the world is taking extraordinary measures to prevent the spread, but authorities indicated owners did not need to fear their pets.
"Animals, pets, can get infected ... There's no evidence that the virus is transmitted from the pet to a human," Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the daily coronavirus briefing.
The CDC recommends that owners not let their pets interact with people or other animals outside the household. Cats should be kept indoors and dogs should be walked on a leash, maintaining at least 1.8m from other animals and people, it said.
The CDC said coronavirus infections have been reported in very few animals worldwide, mostly in those that had close contact with a person with COVID-19.
"There is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States," the CDC said in a statement.
"Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected."
The agency added it is not recommending routine testing of animals at this juncture.
Earlier this month, a study suggested that cats can become infected with the new coronavirus but dogs appear not to be vulnerable, prompting the World Health Organization to say it will take a closer look at transmission of the virus between humans and pets.
A recent study published on the website of the journal Science found that cats and ferrets can become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the scientific term for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease in humans.
The study, based on research conducted in China in January and February, found, however, that dogs, chickens, pigs and ducks are not likely to catch the virus.
The United States has the world's largest number of coronavirus cases at over 830,000, with 47,050 deaths as of Wednesday (Apr 22).