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CDC Recommends Social Distancing for Dogs, Cats, Other Animals

April 29, 2020 by Dan McCue
Malayan Tiger at the Bronx Zoo. (Photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS)

WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that dogs, cats and other animals keep the same social distance from their counterparts as has been recommended for humans.

The recommendation came after a small number of animals — ranging from house pets to large cats in the Bronx Zoo in New York — tested positive for the coronavirus after they came in close contact with a person who had the disease.

Though it has been widely reported that the coronavirus emerged from a live animal market in Wuhan, China, the CDC says the virus is now primarily spreading from person to person and “there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The animal kingdom hasn’t been quite so lucky.

In early April, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo, reported that a four-year-old female Malayan tiger named Nadia tested positive for COVID-19 and that three other tigers and three African lions were showing similar symptoms.

It was later confirmed that all seven cats had the infection, and that another tiger that never developed a cough also tested positive for the disease. The zoo said they were all infected by a single staff person who had exhibited no symptoms of infection when caring for the cats.

The Society has since implemented procedures to prevent such exposure from occurring again.

As of this week, the zoo reports, “All eight cats continue to do well. They are behaving normally, eating well, and their coughing is greatly reduced.”

Last week, two house cats living in separate areas of New York State tested positive for the coronavirus.

A veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs, but none of the humans in its household were confirmed to have the virus.

It’s possible, officials said, that the cat was infected by somebody outside the home. Someone inside the house, with mild or no symptoms, could have also transmitted the virus.

The second cat, in a separate area of New York, was also tested after showing signs of respiratory illness. The owner of that cat tested positive for COVID-19 before the cat became ill, but another cat in the household has shown no signs of illness.

The names of the cats have not been released to the public, but both are expected to make a full recovery.

A recent study published in Science magazine found that the virus tends to replicate poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks, but cats and ferrets are “highly susceptible” to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The study said younger cats tend to be more vulnerable to the disease and that the virus can be transmitted between cats via respiratory droplets.

There have also been a handful of reports outside the U.S. of pet dogs or cats becoming infected after close contact with contagious people in February and early March.

As happened in New York, officials in Hong Kong concluded that pet dogs and cats couldn’t pass the virus to human beings but could test positive if exposed by their owners.

The CDC concedes further studies are needed to understand how the coronavirus impacts the animal members of American households.

In the meantime, it advises pet owners to avoid letting their pets interact with people or animals outside your household. Cats should be kept indoors if possible. Dogs should be walked on a leash and kept at least 6 feet away from other animals or people. It’s best to avoid dog parks and other public places where lots of people and dogs gather.

If someone in your house becomes sick, they should isolate themselves from everyone in the house, including any pets, the CDC said. If one must care for their pet or be around animals while they are sick, they should wear a cloth face covering and wash their hands before and after interacting with them.

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