A Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, Nadia, tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. What does that case mean in regard to common farm and house cats?
Very little, according to Scott Kenney, DVM, assistant professor of veterinary preventative medicine at the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). Kenney’s research focuses on viruses that spread between animals and people.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about this virus, and it’s something we will continue to research, but I wouldn’t be afraid of my animal,” says Kenney.
No animals have contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, adds Amy Swinford.
“People don’t need to be concerned about getting the disease from their pets or livestock,” says Swinford, DVM, MS, associate director at Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) in College Station.
That perspective is corroborated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the World Organization for Animal Health and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The organizations all say on their websites that to date there is no evidence that domestic animals can pass the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on to people.
Coronaviruses as a whole make up a large group, and there are some that infect animals and can infect people but that is rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are two examples of diseases caused by coronaviruses that originated in animals and spread to people, according to the CDC. It says the coronavirus most similar to the virus causing COVID-19 is the one that causes SARS.
Paul Calle, the Bronx Zoo’s chief veterinarian, says in a New York Times article that there have been several experiments in which domestic cats were inoculated with large amounts of the coronavirus, but “that does not replicate what is happening in people’s homes around the world.”
Calle adds that the test used on the zoo’s big cats was not the same as the one used for humans, so testing the tiger did not interfere with human testing.
“You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations,” he notes. (the complete New York Times story is available here: https://nyti.ms/2RiWkuK)
Veterinarians do advise people to use the same precautions with their animals and pets as they would with humans—even when no illness is present.
“I think people tend to love on their animals a bit more than they should, hugging and kissing them, and don’t always use common sense,” Kenney says. “There are different pathogens that can spread between [domestic] animals and humans, so always be cautious and use good hygiene and hand washing after handling an animal.”
In situations where people are ill with COVID-19, the AVMA says to restrict contact with pets and other animals and have another person in the household care for them. If the sick individual must care for the animals, they should wear a facemask and wash hands before and after any contact.
For family members and friends in the same household with individuals who have the virus, Kenney adds, “Try not to touch your face, because the only routes of infection are really your mouth, your nose and your eyes. So if you never contact any of those orifices with the virus, you probably won't get infected.”