The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories has confirmed SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans) in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York. This is the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19. Samples from this tiger were taken and tested after several lions and tigers at the zoo showed symptoms of respiratory illness, according to an official statement from the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. The zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27, APHIS noted. All of these large cats are expected to recover. There is no evidence that other animals in other areas of the zoo are showing symptoms.
USDA and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) are monitoring the situation and working to support the state and local health departments and state animal health officials. State animal and public health officials will take the lead in making determinations about whether animals, either at this zoo or in other areas, should be tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. USDA will notify the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) of this finding.
USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus. “Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state or federal public and animal health officials.”
“Anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people,” APHIS said. “Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction.”
APHIS did add when possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. “If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.”
If you think your animal has the virus, APHIS encouraged the individual to call his or her veterinary clinic with any questions about the animal’s health. In order to ensure the veterinary clinic is prepared for the household animal, the owner should call ahead and arrange the hospital or clinic visit. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if your animal was exposed a person sick with COVID-19, and if your animal is showing any signs of illness.
“Veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will contact state animal health officials, who will work with public and animal health authorities to decide whether samples should be collected and tested,” APHIS said.
According to APHIS, “At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.”
In questioning whether this would prompt additional testing of animals, APHIS said, no. “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.
More information about how those decisions will be made is available here: www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf