Amid more reports of pets and other animals testing positive for the new coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on social distancing this month to include our furry companions. However, there’s no evidence that pets are playing a major role in spreading the virus to people.
Earlier this month, officials at the Bronx Zoo in New York City reported that a tiger named Nadia had tested positive for the coronavirus that causes covid-19. Nadia and other big cats at the zoo also had mild respiratory illnesses resembling the symptoms associated with covid-19 in humans. At least eight big cats at the zoo have tested positive, including one cat who appeared symptom-free.
It’s not just cats that are susceptible to the virus. The very first reports of pets with covid-19 involved two dogs in Hong Kong. On Tuesday, Duke University researchers in North Carolina reported that a pug named Winston had tested positive for the virus during the course of a study that was testing families in the area. If the results are accurate, then Winston would likely be the first dog known to be infected with the coronavirus in the U.S.
“Pugs are a little unusual in that they cough and sneeze in a very strange way,” Heather McLean, Winston’s owner and a professor of pediatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine, told NBC News. “So it almost seems like he was gagging, and there was one day when he didn’t want to eat his breakfast, and if you know pugs, you know they love to eat, so that seemed very unusual.”
In early April, the CDC began to acknowledge cases of animals testing positive for the virus, though it referred to these reports as coming from outside of the U.S. By mid-April, the agency offered precautionary guidelines on social distancing applicable to pets and people. More recently, as of April 23, it removed any references to these cases only occurring outside of the U.S.
“Treat pets as you would other human family members—do not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household. If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets,” the agency has stated on its webpage about animals and covid-19 as far back as April 14.
The CDC maintains that the risk of catching covid-19 from pets is low, based on the limited information so far. But “until we know more about this virus, people sick with COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets and other animals,” the CDC warns.
Right now, at least, the chances of serious harm to pets like Winston from covid-19 also appears to be low. Other evidence has suggested that while the new coronavirus is capable of infecting non-human animals, it doesn’t seem to lead to serious illness in animals like it can in people. It’s no shock that the virus can cross the species barrier, as it’s thought to have originally spread to humans from an unknown animal.