COVID-19 not likely to pose high risk to animals

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*Updated 4/22

Recently, a tiger at a zoo in New York tested positive for COVID-19. Officials believe the tiger was infected after being exposed to a zoo employee who had the virus.

The tiger was the first animal in the U.S. to test positive for COVID-19. This has raised questions for livestock and pet owners, who worry that their animals could become sick from the virus, or could spread it further.

The risks for animals seem to be relatively low so far, Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University researchers say, but there are still precautions to take.

Can animals get COVID-19?

Some of them can.

A few cats and dogs, who live with COVID-19 patients, have tested positive for the virus in other countries, according to Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed two cases of COVID-19 in pet cats in New York April 22.  These cats were the first pets to test positive in the U.S. Both cats had mild respiratory illness, and are expected to make full recoveries. The USDA reiterated that there is still no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the tiger that tested positive was the first of its kind.

OSU’s veterinary college says research is limited, but a few studies from China and the Republic of Korea suggest cats are susceptible, dogs are less susceptible, and pigs, ducks and chickens may be resistant.

Are livestock at risk?

There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in horses or livestock so far, OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine says.

There are other types of coronaviruses that affect livestock, but they are not related to the current outbreak. Some of them can be very contagious between animals, but are not often passed on to different species.

What do I do if I think my animal has COVID-19?

If your animal gets sick after being around a COVID-19 patient, the CDC says, call your veterinarian before taking your animal to the clinic. Tell your vet the animal had contact with a COVID-19 patient.

Some vets may offer telemedicine appointments. From there, the vet can determine what to do next.

Ohio State advised animal owners to call ahead before visiting a veterinarian for anything, even if it is an emergency. Some clinics have shifted hours and payment options. Some clinics are doing parking lot or curbside check-ins.

Can I catch it from an animal?

The CDC says there is no evidence that animals can pass COVID-19 to humans.

Suresh Kuchipudi, clinical professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences with Penn State, said in a Penn State article that “based on the best scientific information we have … there is no need for concern that pets and other domestic animals will pass this virus to people.”

OSU did note the virus is very contagious between people. The college advised farms to limit the number of people in barns, clean and disinfect surfaces frequently and encourage sick people to stay home.

Kuchipudi also noted that there are other diseases that animals can spread to people, so it is always important to wash your hands and practice good hygiene.

How can I protect my animals?

Because there is a risk of spreading COVID-19 from humans to animals, the CDC recommends keeping pets away from other animals and people outside of the household, until more research about how the virus affects animals develops.

If you get sick, limit contact with your animals, and ask someone else in your household to take care of your animals while you are sick. If you have to care for your animals, wash your hands before and after and wear a cloth face covering.

OSU’s veterinary college says pet owners can still take their dogs for walks outside.

Walks are good exercise and are important for physical and mental health. It is important, however, to keep your dog on a leash so they stay close, stay away from crowded areas and maintain a distance of six feet from other people.

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