According to recent reports from the USDA Veterinary Services Laboratories, a female tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City showed mild symptoms and tested positive for the novel coronavirus strain causing a global pandemic  . The 4-year-old big cat, Nadia, was tested when she developed a dry cough and a slight loss of appetite on March 27. While the zoo has been closed to the public since March 16, it is believed that the animal contracted the disease from an asymptomatic zoo worker who didn’t know he was sick with the virus. So far, six other big cats – three lions and three tigers – have shown mild symptoms as well, but they are all expected to recover soon.
Zoo officials were especially stunned by Nadia’s positive test results. However, they are hoping the new development would pave way for more research and information regarding the disease.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said director of the zoo, Jim Breheny in an interview. “Any kind of knowledge that we get on how it’s transmitted, how different species react to it, that knowledge somehow is going to provide a greater base resource for people.”
The staff decided to test Nadia for the COVID-19 out of “due diligence and an abundance of caution,” said Breheny. Out of the seven sick big cats in the zoo, only Nadia was tested for the virus. She had already been tranquilized to be examined and they decided to take samples and swabs. The cats had all been exposed to the same worker, who has continued to fare well and show no symptoms. Thankfully, no other big cats in the zoo were exposed.
What are pet owners saying about this?
The first question a lot of people are asking following this news is: ‘Are our pet cats safe?’
A recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute found that cats and ferrets are especially susceptible to the coronavirus, but there’s currently no cause for alarm . The cats were inoculated with very high amounts of the coronavirus and yet, there is no evidence to prove that they can pass it on to humans.
The team also tested other animals and found that the virus replicated very poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks. Essentially, your canines and livestock are still in the green zone and have not been proven to be susceptible to the infection. Felines, on the other hand, have always been prone to respiratory diseases, and now, the COVID-19 has been added to the list. However, according to virologist Linda Saif of the Ohio University in Wooster, “The results are based on lab experiments in which a small number of animals were deliberately given high doses of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and do not represent real-life interactions between people and their pets.”
While studies are still being carried out, people are advised to maintain optimum hygiene with their pets and always wash their hands with soap after contact with the animals.
“Given the number of people in this country that have been infected with the virus and have become ill, and the number of people in this country that own domestic cats,” said Karen A. Terio, Chief of the Zoological Pathology Program at the University of Illinois veterinary college, where tests for the tiger were done. “It seems fairly improbable that cats are an important source of the virus for people if the first case we’re diagnosing it in is a tiger.”
Nadia wasn’t given a human test
The news of the tiger’s condition sparked public outrage shortly after it was announced. People wondered why a tiger should be given a test when COVID-19 test kits were in short supply around the world. However, according to Dr. Paul Calle, the Bronx Zoo’s chief veterinarian, Nadia’s test had been different from the test humans received.
“You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories,” he said . “So there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.”
“Testing performed on animals is based on the published tests used in people, however, the National Veterinary Services Laboratories uses reagents not required when testing people”, said Lyndsay Cole, Assistant Director of Public Affairs with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS).
While the animals at the zoo may have tested positive to the virus, the (USDA-APHIS) is currently discouraging the panic-testing of animals. “This is an evolving situation, however, routine testing of zoo or personal animals is not recommended at this time. Public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals that are showing signs of illness and that are known to have been exposed to the virus,” they wrote in a statement.
Uncertainties still looming largely
According to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health, several research societies are working hard to understand how the disease affects and spreads among animals. This new strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, also called COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China. A strong theory of the source of the strain reports that the outbreak started when humans had interactions with bats from a wet market where animals were sold illegally .
Considering this fact, it’s not possible to completely rule out the possibility of pets being struck by the virus. There have been several unconfirmed and unverified reports, mostly in Asian countries, of dogs and cats testing positive for the virus. Although the WHO and the CDC initially stated that “there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the virus,” Nadia’s certainly indicate that pets could get infected and maybe even spread the virus. Here is an up to date article on the subject.
Keep Reading: Video: How Coronavirus Attacks the Body
- Jennifer Peltz. Tiger at NYC’s Bronx Zoo tests positive for coronavirus. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/tiger-nycs-bronx-zoo-tests-positive-coronavirus-69989185. Retrieved 07-04-2020
- USDA Statement on the Confirmation of COVID-19 in a Tiger in New York. USDA. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/news/sa_by_date/sa-2020/ny-zoo-covid-19. Retrieved 07-04-2020
- Zhigao Bu et al. Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and different domestic animals to SARS-coronavirus-2. BioRxiv. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.30.015347v1. Retrieved 07-04-2020
- Smriti Mallapaty. Coronavirus can infect cats — dogs, not so much. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00984-8. Retrieved 07-04-2020
- James Gorman. A Tiger Is Slightly Sick With the Coronavirus. Your Cats Are Probably OK. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/science/tiger-cats-coronavirus.html. Retrieved 07-04-2020
- Coronavirus: All you need to know in 500 words. Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/china-coronavirus-500-words-200127065154334.html. Retrieved 07-04-2020
- If You Have Animals. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html. Retrieved 07-04-2020
- Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats. Web MD/Pets. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/upper-respiratory-infection-cats. Retrieved 07-04-2020
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