Mortality associated with SARS-CoV-2 in nondomestic felids

Mary Drozd, Jana M. Ritter, Jonathan Peter Samuelson, Maryanna Parker, Leyi Wang, Samantha J. Sander, Jill Yoshicedo, Louden Wright, Jenee Odani, Trent Shrader, Elizabeth Lee, Shawn R. Lockhart, Ria R. Ghai, Karen A. Terio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Between September and November 2021, 5 snow leopards (Panthera uncia) and 1 lion (Panthera leo) were naturally infected with severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and developed progressive respiratory disease that resulted in death. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 sequencing identified the delta variant in all cases sequenced, which was the predominant human variant at that time. The time between initial clinical signs and death ranged from 3 to 45 days. Gross lesions in all 6 cats included nasal turbinate hyperemia with purulent discharge and marked pulmonary edema. Ulcerative tracheitis and bronchitis were noted in 4 cases. Histologically, there was necrotizing and ulcerative rhinotracheitis and bronchitis with fibrinocellular exudates and fibrinosuppurative to pyogranulomatous bronchopneumonia. The 4 cats that survived longer than 8 days had fungal abscesses. Concurrent bacteria were noted in 4 cases, including those with more acute disease courses. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 was detected by in situ hybridization using probes against SARS-CoV-2 spike and nucleocapsid genes and by immunohistochemistry. Viral nucleic acid and protein were variably localized to mucosal and glandular epithelial cells, pneumocytes, macrophages, and fibrinocellular debris. Based on established criteria, SARS-CoV-2 was considered a contributing cause of death in all 6 cats. While mild clinical infections are more common, these findings suggest that some SARS-CoV-2 variants may cause more severe disease and that snow leopards may be more severely affected than other felids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalVeterinary pathology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • COVID-19
  • Panthera
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • bronchitis
  • exotic cats
  • lion
  • pneumonia
  • reverse zoonosis
  • snow leopards
  • zoo cats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Veterinary


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