It’s possible for domestic pets to get, spread coronavirus to other pets

After the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Lab confirmed a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus, veterinarians said it’s possible for domestic pets to test positive and pass it on to other animals, too.

Both the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is no evidence to suggest animals that contract coronavirus can give it to people.

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people,’ the USDA said in a news release.

Zoo animals are being tested at the Smithsonian National Zoo if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19, spokeswoman Annalisa Meyer confirmed. She did not elaborate on the type of testing or how many animals have been tested.

The zoo’s staff is taking precautions around the animals and emphasizing zookeeper safety as more is learned about the transmission of the virus between animals and humans, Meyer said.

All staff must wear masks and keep a 6-foot distance from other humans and animals. Only essential procedures are taking place, and the staff is using personal protective equipment, including washable face masks, when interacting with the animals and their enclosures.

“As such, the Zoo’s preparedness plan includes restricting behind-the-scenes access in all animal areas, cross-training animal care staff on essential functions and establishing protocols for use of personal protective equipment, hygiene and cleaning, and employee self-screening and health management,” Meyer said in a statement.

The tiger’s positive result is empirical evidence of what is described in a Chinese study, which tested cats, dogs, pigs, chickens and even ferrets for coronavirus, according to Luis Escobar, who studies disease ecology at the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech.

“Now they are playing a key role in [our] mental health by being with us, so we don’t know how susceptible or how fragile they are to the infection,” Escobar told WTOP.

There are reports of SARS-CoV-2 infections from owners to their cats or dogs, which resulted in cats with respiratory issues, nausea, and diarrhea — sometimes mirroring the symptoms reported with infected humans.

Cats with coronavirus may have a reduced appetite, a depressed mood, cough, and digestive issues, Escobar said.

“If one person is infected, avoid kissing the pets, rubbing your nose with the pets, and that’ll help from sharing the virus with the animals and also sharing pathogens that the animals can have or we can have to avoid cross-species transmission,” he said.

He suggested keeping your animals away from others they may meet on a walk or outside, and if you think you are sick, to try and keep your distance.

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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