Can Your Pet Contract COVID-19?
April 30, 2020 | 12:18 PM PST — A pet dog in Chapel Hill, North Carolina has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. According to TIME, Duke Health has confirmed the test results, which make the pug, called Winston, the first dog in the U.S. to have tested positive for the virus. “To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which the virus has been detected in a dog,” Dr. Chris Woods, the principal investigator on Duke’s Molecular and Epidemiological Study of Suspected Infection (MESSI) study, said in a statement. “Little additional information is known at this time as we work to learn more about the exposure.”
Local news channel WRAL reported that the dog’s owners — a mother, who works as a pediatrician, a father, who works in the emergency room at UNC Hospitals, and a son — have all tested positive for COVID-19, hence their participation in MESSI, a project that examines how the body responds to infection. (Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the ongoing study has shifted focus to the novel coronavirus.) Nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insists that the risk of “animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.” But it does raise the question: Are pets more at risk of humans spreading the virus to them? While the answer is still unclear, WRAL noted that the family’s other pets, a cat and dog, were tested and only Winston tested positive.
What About the Bronx Zoo COVID-19 Cases?
Health experts have repeatedly assured the general public that humans and animals can’t pass the novel coronavirus to one another, so it seemed like a strange twist of fate when the Bronx Zoo announced on March 27 to a Tiger King-obsessed, social distancing world that four-year-old Malayan tiger Nadia tested positive for COVID-19. In addition to Nadia, a reported six other big cats have fallen ill, seemingly due to transmission of the virus from an asymptomatic zoo employee.
Can You Get COVID-19 from Your Pet?
While the Bronx Zoo’s tigers and lions did come down with the novel coronavirus, Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, told MarketWatch in a recent interview that folks should remember that big cats and domestic ones, while related, are completely different animals. That means viruses affect them differently.
You Should Still Take Precautions to Protect Your Pet
Dr. Howe commented that providing your dog (or other pet) with a medical mask is "a total waste of money" — not to mention a waste of valuable resources, given the shortage of protective equipment in U.S. hospitals and healthcare facilities. But there are still precautions you can take to make sure your four-legged companion stays healthy. For starters, treat your interactions with pets as you would treat your interactions with humans during this pandemic.
Lend a Helping Hand. Or Paw.
Finally, if you’re an animal lover with some extra time on your hands, you might want to try fostering or adopting a pet during the shelter-in-place and social-distancing directives. This helps animal shelters, which are generally overwhelmed and has the added benefit of doing wonders for your mental health.