Lions, Tigers, and Puppies, Oh My! Animals Get Coronavirus, Too

By Peter Schelden

Plenty of people have contracted COVID-19 by now—more than 3.7 million, in fact. But what about our pets and other animals?

Most researchers believe the novel coronavirus started in an animal, possibly a bat, as bats are known to harbor a wide variety of coronaviruses. But just because it appears in humans does not mean it stops with humans. There have been several instances of animals sick with COVID-19, and these probably caught it from human beings.

Can Dogs Catch and Transmit Coronavirus?

In late February, Hong Kong public health officials announced a pet Pomeranian had tested weakly positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The dog was quarantined, and subsequent tests continued to show infection. Although the dog died two days after its quarantine ended, health authorities believe it was from unrelated causes.

This was the first of several pets that have since been infected with COVID-19. Although infected pets are not as widely tested as humans, we’ve seen several instances so far.

About three weeks after the Pomeranian infection was announced, a German shepherd in Hong Kong also tested positive. It was living with an infected person. This dog was also quarantined, and like the Pomeranian never showed signs of infection, or any sign it infected humans.

The first U.S. dog identified with the virus, a pug, was reported April 27. It recovered after a few days of breathing problems.

Can Cats Get Infected with Coronavirus?

In late March the first infected cat was reported, this time in Belgium. Unlike the dogs, the cat showed symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing difficulty.

In April, three more pet cats came down with COVID-19, as confirmed by lab tests. Two lived in New York state, and the other lived in Hong Kong.

Bronx Zoo Tigers and Lions Infected with COVID-19-like Symptoms

The Bronx Zoo announced April 5 that a tiger had contracted the virus. Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, came down with a cough and lost her appetite.

Four more tigers and three lions later brought the total number of infected big cats at the zoo to 8. Only one was symptom-free.

The chief veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo, Paul Calle, told National Geographic he thought an asymptomatic zookeeper was responsible.

How Do You Protect Your Pet Against Coronavirus?

The risk of your pet contracting COVID-19 is low, according to the CDC. Even so, the health agency recommends treating your pets the same way you treat yourself. If someone in your home is sick with COVID-19, keep them away from pets as well as family members.

Here are some more recommendations from the CDC for pet owners:

  • When you walk your dog, use a leash. Maintain social distance by keeping your dog at least 6 feet from others.
  • Avoid crowded places like parks where dogs often interact.
  • Keep cats inside if possible, and away from other people.

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Reviewed on 5/8/2020

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