Two cats have tested positive for coronavirus, the first two pets in the United States to contract the virus, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The two cats, who live in two separate areas of New York state, had mild respiratory illness and “are expected to make a full recovery,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

According to the agency, one cat was tested after it showed mild respiratory signs, even though no individuals in the household had contracted the virus. The owner of the second cat tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the cat showing signs of respiratory illness.

The CDC said “there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus” but recommends several steps for pet owners to take, including:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

For pet owners who have tested positive for coronavirus, the CDC recommends restricting contact with animals just as you would around other people. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, the CDC suggests wearing a cloth face covering and washing your hands before and after you interact with your pets.

Sadly, the agency also suggests avoiding "petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.”

As my colleague Tom Avril wrote earlier this month, to cause an infection, a virus must have the right kind of proteins on its surface to latch on to a “receptor” — a binding site on the cells of the host animal. The coronavirus does this with a protein shaped like a spike, which is closely matched to a receptor in the human respiratory system.

Earlier this month, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo named Nadia tested positive for the coronavirus. Karen A. Terio, the chief of the zoological pathology program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told The Inquirer a receptor in the tiger’s airways was close enough to its human counterpart that the virus was able to latch on.

Zoo officials told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the tiger and six other big cats at the zoo believed to have the virus were on the mend.