National Zoo cats ‘improving’ after COVID-19 diagnosis

The lions and tigers at the Smithsonian National Zoo that contracted COVID-19 last month are improving, but the great cats are now being treated for secondary bacterial pneumonia, the zoo said.

In an update Friday, the Smithsonian National Zoo said that the lions and tigers “are improving and eating” after testing positive for the coronavirus Sept. 17.

Six lions and two tigers are being treated for presumptive secondary bacterial pneumonia following their COVID-19 diagnosis, the zoo said.

Samples from the animals are tested weekly to determine if the animals continue spreading COVID-19. As of Thursday, three of the cats — two lions and one tiger — have tested negative.

The zoo said it is continuing to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Zoetis coronavirus vaccine, made specifically for zoo animals, is set to be administered to select animals in the coming months.

The update on the animals’ condition Friday seems to be more promising news for the zoo’s great cats. On Sept. 24, staff noted that there were three lions whose condition was  “of concern,” to zoo staff.  However, those lions — an older female named Shera and adult males Shaka and Jumbe — have since improved their eating and drinking habits, the zoo said.

Zoo staff reported that they noticed decreased appetites, coughing, sneezing and lethargy as early as Sept. 11 and 12.

Fecal samples first tested “presumptive positive” the week of Sept. 13.

The nine cats were initially treated with anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea medication to help alleviate symptoms.

The zoo first confirmed treatment for COVID-19 in their big cat population on Sept. 17.

WTOP’s Thomas Robertson, Matthew Delaney and Kristi King contributed to this report.

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Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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