Can Dogs And Cats Get Coronavirus?

A tiger in New York has COVID-19. What does that mean for pets?

Can Dogs And Cats Get Coronavirus (COVID-19?) Getty

Just as we were all moving on from our collective obsession with Tiger King, we have new tiger-related news to focus on. This time, it has to do directly with COVID-19 and how it affects the big cats. (And no, Carole Baskin has nothing to do with it.)

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News broke over the weekend that 4-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia tested positive for the virus after her keepers at New York's Bronx Zoo observed her coughing. They did tests and the results came back with a big surprise: the big cat has the same coronavirus that is sweeping around the globe and causing mass shutdowns as humans try to slow its spread.

Finding out that a wild animal can get the virus creates a whole lot of questions about the virus and how it is spreading. Pet owners might be wondering if they should be quarantining their furry friends to avoid contact with other infected animals.


Can cats get coronavirus (COVID-19)? Can dogs get coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Read on for the latest science. 

How can a tiger have coronavirus?

The Bronx Zoo announced that Nadia, along with her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions had all developed a dry cough in the weeks following the zoo's closure on March 16. Staff had Nadia tested and discovered she is infected with the same coronavirus that has affected over a million humans so far. Keepers said that apart from the cough, the animals all seem fine, eating and interacting normally. Their best guess is that the cats got the virus from a zookeeper who was infected but didn't realize it yet. The virus can incubate for many days before a person shows any symptoms so it's possible to be contagious without realizing it. 

Nadia is the first known wild aminal to have the disease so no one knows yet how it will progress but staff at the zoo is optimistic that she will recover. 


How did a tiger get a coronavirus test when humans are having trouble get tingthem?

New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres tweeted, “A tiger at the Bronx Zoo has more access to testing than the people of the South Bronx, where the risk of dying from COVID-19 is twice as high as the rest of the City.” While the shortage of human testing remains a major problem for health care providers, the tiger didn't jump the testing line; testing for animals is a completely different process. Dr. Paul Calle, Bronx Zoo chief veterinarian tweeted, "The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people."

"You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories," he continued. "So there is no competition for testing between these very different situations."



A post shared by Bronx Zoo (@bronxzoo) on Apr 4, 2020 at 6:10am PDT

The Bronx Zoo is home to many big cats. 


Can pets get coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Learning that there is the possibility that people can pass the virus on to animals is unnerving for pet owners, especially since there were some early reports of animals testing positive. Allegedly, a Pomeranian and a German shepherd in Hong Kong tested positive, as did a domestic cat in Belgium. Scientists rushed to start studying the possibility of trans-species transmission.

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There is good news for dog owners.

After the cases with the Pomeranian and the German shepherd, researchers looked carefully at the dogs to see if they're susceptible to the virus. The Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department was quick to report that the Pomeranian had “a low-level of infection and it is likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission.” They had the same reassurances about the German shepherd


Subsequent research revealed ogs are generally not susceptible to COVID-19, which is good news for all the dog owners out there. Scientists gave the dogs heavy exposure to the virus and discovered that they don't show symptoms and the virus can't be detected in nasal swabs. However, there was evidence of the virus in their feces so everyone should be extra-careful when cleaning up dog doo. 

Cats are more susceptible to COVID-19.

The same study that showed that dogs are at low risk from getting sick demonstrated that cats do show evidence of the virus in nasal swabs. Moreover, they seemed to be able to transmit it from cat to cat, though not at the same rate that humans transmit it to other humans. But the cats didn't show symptoms and they developed antibodies to the virus. The researchers believe cats are most likely not at risk of getting terribly sick from COVID-19 nor are they likely to infect their owners. 


Dr. Calle of the Bronx noted that “If cats were generally susceptible, there would have been lots of reports in the preceding months about that.”

Research into animal risk factors and their ability to transmit the disease will likely continue until all the questions are answered. For now, it looks like it's still safe to be around pets even if you get the disease, even though it might be wise to limit your close physical contact with them if you are very sick. The CDC also reminds us to practice good hygiene when caring for animals such as washing hands after touching them and being diligent about cleaning up pet waste. If you are concerned about your pet, call your veterinarian for medical advice. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.