Today, many news outlets reported that one of the Bronx zoo tigers was tested positive for COVID-19. The tigress Nadia developed a severe dry cough, reason why she got tested. It turned out that also the other three tigers along with three lions developed the same cough, though milder. The source of infection was an asymptomatic zoo employee.
First, it is interesting that the tigers got infected at all. Surely there was no prolonged direct contact between guard and the animal. The transmission is likely to have happened either by the tigers eating contaminated food, or by far-distance transport through the air.
There is a nice scientific paper that describes the protein that helps the virus enter our cells. This protein is shared by several mammals, including cats and dogs. More scientific articles about cats and dogs contracting COVID-19 are in preprint stage. Articles at this stage are of unclear quality because they currently undergoing peer-review. Still, the message is clear: infections are possible. There are also anecdotal news items that describe a handful of cases where cats or dogs of virus-positive people got infected. The reports of pet infections are rare, so there is a good chance that this is not happening frequently, though we don’t know how often cats and dogs can be non-symptomatic, and thus become spreaders without the owner realising.
While the tiger story shows that transmission from human to cat and from cat to cat is possible, so far it is unclear whether or not the virus can jump back to humans. More research on this is urgently needed. I think it is wise to apply some precautionary measures, some of these are also promoted by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- Force your pet into social distancing, thus keep your cat indoors / walk your dog only on the leash and keep distance to other dogs
- Do not touch other animals
- Don’t let the neighbour’s cat visit your house
- Wash your hands after each contact with a pet (you should do this anyway)
- Wash your pet frequently (cat owners: only if you happen to have chain mail gloves and shirts)
- Wash your pet’s resting and sleeping places frequently
- Pay close attention to your pet’s health, especially whether it starts to sneeze.
- Do NOT send the cat outdoors if it gets sick! You don’t want your cat infect your neighbours’ cats! Instead, isolate it from your family and pay double attention to your family’s health.