A Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for COVID-19. Her name is Nadia, she’s four years old, and she’s recovering well, CNN reported. Nadia was tested for the new coronavirus after she and six other big cats in the zoo showed signs of respiratory illness — low appetite and a dry cough. They are all expected to recover, but the illness of these big cats begs the question: How did a tiger get coronavirus?
It appears that the animals were infected by a zookeeper who was asymptomatically carrying COVID, according to CNN, as the zoo has been closed to the public since March 16th. This is more proof that people who do not seem sick could still be actively shedding the virus to others. So far, no other animals have shown symptoms and the zoo has enacted appropriate protective measures for keepers and other animals, they stated in a press release.
We still don’t know enough about coronavirus to predict how it will affect other animals, but things are looking good for the big cats. "Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers," the zoo said in their press release. Phew.
In case you’re starting to get paranoid about what this means for your pet, let’s break down what we know so far. First of all, this is the first reported case of human-to-animal transmission in the U.S. Cats of any size have not been found to be COVID-19 vectors, meaning they’re not sources of human infection or spread.
There have been cases in other countries of pets becoming infected with COVID by their humans, but there are no cases reported of pets infecting humans thus far. Cats do seem to be more susceptible to the disease than dogs, but their symptoms are not severe, and while they can transmit the virus to other cats, they do not seem to pass it to humans or other animals, reported the Guardian.
You might be scratching your head right now if you’ve heard the “animal market in Wuhan” story of the first case of novel coronavirus, and you’re right to wonder: If COVID-19 jumped from a cow or a snake to a human in Wuhan, why not from a cat to a cat lady in Lansing?
The CDC says the truth is that we just can't be sure of the exact origin story of COVID-19 or how it spread to humans, but that “there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 to people or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.”
Basically, we don’t know whether or not animals can, theoretically, pass COVID-19 to humans, but the evidence is that they are not, so we should stop worrying about whether our cats are making us sick and focus our attention to human vectors, like the anonymous asymptomatic zookeeper. No shade to that guy at all — just another shout out for the idea of just staying home, no matter how you feel, if your employer offers you the option.
And one more time for the people in the back: There is no reason to abandon your fur family for fear of COVID-19 transmission in either direction. The CDC recommends that if you yourself are sick, you should limit contact with pets and wash your hands before you touch or feed them. They also recommend no licking, so if you suspect you may have COVID, please do not lick your cat or anyone else’s.