A tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday.
The 4-year-old Malayan tiger, named Nadia, developed a dry cough and was tested “out of an abundance of caution,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement. The Wildlife Conservation Society believes the cats were infected by a person caring for them who was either asymptomatic or had not yet shown symptoms of the COVID-19.
But does this mean that your house cats are at risk of getting COVID-19?
Technically, cats can contract different types of coronaviruses. A pet cat in Hong Kong tested positive for COVID-19 in late March, but showed no symptoms, as well as two dogs. And after a Belgian cat owner returned from a trip to Italy in late March, their cat developed digestive and respiratory symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19.
However, dogs and cats aren’t “readily infected with SARS-CoV-2,” the specific virus that causes the disease COVID-19, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. “We have little to no evidence that they become ill, and no evidence that those that may be naturally infected spread SARS-CoV-2 to other pets or people.”
In the U.S., the CDC hasn’t received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19.
“Given the number of people in this country that have been infected with the virus and have become ill, and the number of people in this country that own domestic cats, it seems fairly improbable that cats are an important source of the virus for people if the first case we’re diagnosing it in is a tiger,” Karen A. Terio, head of the Zoological Pathology Program at the University of Illinois veterinary school, who tested the Bronx Zoo tigers, told The New York Times Monday.
That said, people who are infected with COVID-19 and symptomatic should limit contact with pets if possible as a precaution, the Centers for Disease Control suggests. That means no petting, kissing, hugging, sharing food, dishes or bedding with your pets. Essentially, keep your distance like you would other humans, at least until more information about the virus is available.
One person in a household with COVID-19 should be in charge of taking care of pets, and they should follow good handwashing procedures before and after handling or caring for the pet. If you’re the only person in your household, or you must care for your pet, the CDC recommends being diligent before and after.
Even though these guidelines are in place, “there is currently no reason at this time to think that domestic animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with SARS-CoV-2,” according to the AVMA.
And if kitty rubs against something that you worry might be contaminated? There’s no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread to people from the skin or fur of a pet, according to the CDC. Fur may be more porous than other materials that can carry a virus, so it doesn’t survive as long as something that’s hard.
But as always, it’s a good idea to wash your hands after touching, feeding or handling your pets, or disinfect surfaces that your pet has walked on, like counter tops or tables. Pets can transmit lots of other diseases besides COVID-19.
More research needs to be done to fully understand how different animals could be affected by COVID-19, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.
If you’re worried about your own pet’s symptoms, call your veterinarian and let them know if your pet was exposed to someone with the disease, the AVMA suggests.
As for the tigers, Nadia’s sibling, named Azul, plus two Amur tigers, and three African lions at the Bronx Zoo also have symptoms. Since testing a large cat for COVID-19 is different than a human test and requires anesthesia, the attending veterinarian felt it was in the cats’ best interest to limit testing to one tiger at this time, according to the USDA.
The cats are expected to make a full recovery. Staff at the Bronx Zoo, which has been closed since March 16, is following “appropriate preventative measures” to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread to more animals or humans, according to the statement.
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