After a four-year-old tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19, new evidence may suggest that animals can, in fact, contract the novel coronavirus. The tiger, Nadia, became the first of its kind to be diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 on Sunday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in a press release. SARS-CoV-2, according to the USDA, is what causes COVID-19 disease in humans, which is different than other common strains of coronavirus that animals and pets are often treated for. Seven animals were tested for the virus over the weekend: Nadia, a female Malayan tiger, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions. All the animals were suspected of having the novel virus after they developed a dry cough. While the other six cats haven’t been officially diagnosed, they are all showing the same symptoms as Nadia.
“Our cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus,” the Bronx Zoo stated in their own press release, published by the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos [Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo, and the Queens Zoo], to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats.”
Many grew concerned over the possibility that animals could contract this fatal strain of coronavirus, and sought out answers and preventative measures that were previously disputed. Due to the unique nature of the situation, as Nadia is the first big cat to be infected with the disease, the USDA expanded on any questions the public might have in their confirmation of Nadia’s diagnosis, addressing a slew of concerns like whether people can give the virus to animals and vice versa and if a human infected with COVID-19 should interact with their pet.
“This case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger,” they said when addressing whether humans can spread the virus to animals. “Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.”
And as for whether animals can give the virus to humans, the USDA states that “At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.”
However, just as the world has been socially distanced from other humans and has been self-quarantining indoors , precautions to take with pets and animals, especially if a person has been infected with COVID-19, are strongly suggested. The organization notes that restricting contact with animals altogether and handing over feeding and general care duties to another person, as well as limited interaction, is your best bet. They also note that “If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.”
For pet owners who may think their pet has the virus, touching base with a veterinarian is suggested, just as a human showing symptoms would go to the hospital. The USDA also gives insights into next steps, should a pet possibly be infected, noting that “veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will contact state animal health officials” and go from there.