By Stan Maddux
The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pets in the U.S. is generating questions about the ability of animals to spread the virus to humans.
According to public health officials, there’s still a lot to be learned about COVID-19 but there’s no evidence companion pets or any animal can infect people with the virus.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory on April 22 announced the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in two pet cats from New York. Since then at least one dog has also been diagnosed with the virus.
The cats residing in separate areas of the state had mild respiratory illness and were expected to make a full recovery, officials said.
One of the cats was from a household where no individuals were confirmed to have coronavirus. The infection could have been from contact with a person outside the home.
The owner of the other pet tested positive for the virus prior to the cat exhibiting symptoms, officials said. Another cat inside the same home showed no signs of illness.
COVID-19 infections have been reported in very few animals worldwide and most of those had close contact with an infected human, officials said.
After the infected cats were announced, seven more COVID-19 infections at the Bronx Zoo in New York City were revealed. According to USDA, in early April a tiger was confirmed to have the virus then four more tigers and three lions at the zoo were found to be infected. An ill zookeeper was thought to have transmitted the virus to the big cats. Zoo officials reported the animals were doing well and acting normally.
USDA is keeping a record of animals infected with COVID-19 in the U.S. and turning the information over to the World Health Organization because of the virus being classified as an emerging disease, officials said.
According to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person but it’s not surprising the virus can infect some animals under certain conditions because it is known previous viruses have spread from people to animals like cats, ferrets and pigs in small numbers.
“The risk to animals is very low and the risk from animals is even lower. There is no reason to harm wildlife or abandon pets out of fear,” school officials said.
CDC recommendations for protecting pets include avoiding dog parks and other public places for potential large gatherings and wear a mask if sick and nobody else is available to provide food, water and other care for the pet.