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COVID-19 in a Tiger: New York

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Clinician's Brief
Originally published on the Worms & Germs Blog.

This one’s bound to attract a lot of attention, and that can be both good and bad. A tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The tiger was sick (cough, decreased appetite) and was presumed to have been infected by a caretaker who was infected but asymptomatic.

Three other tigers and three African lions also had a dry cough, but only one tiger was tested because sample collection in these animals requires general anesthesia. All the affected big cats are expected to recover. The zoo has been closed to the public since March 16, but the first signs of illness weren’t seen until March 27.

On one hand, it’s not too surprising. If domestic cats are susceptible, wild cats should be too. On the other, there are some noteworthy aspects:

  • Zoo cats generally don’t have much direct contact with their caretaker (though this varies by zoo). Infection of these cats was therefore presumably through very transient direct, or indirect, contact.
  • Given the very limited testing of domestic cats to date, this yet again raises the question of how commonly domestic cats have been infected by owners in North America, given the large number of infected people and relatively high percentage of households with cats, and the much closer contact between people and pet cats (compared to zoo cats).


Have you received client questions about pet infection and transmission after the news about the tigers at the Bronx Zoo testing positive?

As always, don’t over-react. This just reinforces the message I’ve been saying since the January (which, despite all our talk about “One Health” led to a lot of criticism): We need to consider and investigate the potential animal aspects of this disease, such as human-to-pet transmission, in order to help prevent pets from contributing to human disease, and to help avoid creating a (domestic) animal reservoir for this virus. This is still a very much a predominantly human disease, but we can’t completely ignore the role of animals even if it’s small. We can use simple, practical and basically free measures to reduce the presumably low risks to and from animals, and we should:

  • If you’re infected, limit contact with animals.
  • If someone in your house is infected, keep your animals away from other animals and people.
  • Social distancing includes your pets. Keep your pets away from other people and animals outside your household, just like you should be doing with yourself.

COVID-19 Resources

Clinician’s Brief is gathering information for veterinarians facing the coronavirus pandemic. Get the latest safety tips and guidelines here.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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