As a researcher in viral diseases who has worked for ten years with feline coronavirus, I question the contention arising from a study of cats’ susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 that surveillance of the disease in cats should be considered as “an adjunct to elimination of COVID-19 in humans” (J. Shi et al. Preprint at bioRxiv; 2020). As you note, the study was not peer reviewed and there were limitations in its experimental design (see Nature; 2020). The authors’ claim has sparked grave concerns in the veterinary community that it could lead to the unnecessary persecution of cats.

Moreover, the authors mention that nasal swabbing — normally a simple procedure — was impossible because of the cats’ “aggressive” behaviour. In my view, this indicates a disregard for basic animal welfare. This should not be side-stepped in the haste to generate insight into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers also have a responsibility not to prematurely release contentious results that have far-reaching implications. Brazil, for example, has 22 million cats, among the largest populations in the world, and their mass abandonment would be catastrophic. This responsibility is paramount during a deadly pandemic, when even the flimsiest information can be seized on, amplified and distorted on social media.