When closures first began going into effect in March after the outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States, the global pandemic situation seemed pretty bleak. Restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, zoos, amusement parks, and any and all other businesses deemed non-essential shut their doors to endure the coming months of social distancing, hoping to slow the spread of the sometimes deadly disease.
But there were bright spots, too, one of the first being the Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium penguins. With the coronavirus closure of the aquarium, the penguins were let loose to explore, and the videos of the naturally-tuxedoed little birds waddling their way through exhibits warmed the hearts of stuck-at-home viewers. With everyone else being cooped up, witnessing the waddling adventures of the penguins seemed to be the silver lining we all needed a little too badly. Other zoos and aquariums followed suit, letting their penguins’ spirits fly high as then paraded through exhibits and gift shops alike and posting the heartwarming videos online, where they soon went viral.
Meanwhile, across the world in Venice, Italy, which was hit especially hard and early by the virus, the streets and canals remained quiet from the harsh quarantine restrictions. With the absence of gondolas and tourism, though, the usually bustling waters of the canals were now calm, free of the pollution caused by the constant transportation and tourism. As the waters of the floating city became clearer and clearer, soon to the point that one could see to the bottoms, and soon stories about dolphins and swans returning to Italy’s waterways were rampant on Twitter. Though these stories about coronavirus being the cause of the animal sightings were fake, people latched onto heartwarming tales about animals to provide a shining light in the midst of a global health crisis.
However, not all animal news in regards to the virus has been positive. Due to its nature as a novel virus, researchers still do not understand many of the effects of COVID-19, including its animal origins or effects upon our furry friends. On April 5th, a tiger named Nadia from the Bronx Zoo was reported to have tested positive for the virus. She was the first animal in the United States to test positive for COVID-19, and soon fear spread to worried pet owners, wondering, “Could my pet catch it, too?” and “Can animals be carriers for the virus?” Unfortunately, there’s still a lot about the virus we have yet to understand, and we can't exactly put an N95 mask on one of our pets! What we do know is that the virus seems to be transmittable among big cats, as since Nadia’s diagnosis the other four tigers in her enclosure, as well as three African lions, have tested positive for coronavirus, as well. It does not, however, seem to be fatal. All eight tigers are recovering well, eating, sleeping, and behaving normally, and the coughing they initially exhibited is improving greatly. No other big cats, including leopards, jaguars, pumas, or cheetahs, have been infected. The original cats were initially infected by a zookeeper who had unknowingly contracted the virus, but was asymptomatic before later developing symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, it is known that the coronavirus originated from an animal source at a trading market that often dealt with wildlife in Wuhan, China. Though animals do not seem to play a role in the spread of the disease, they are in rare instances able to contract it from humans. The information about coronavirus’ effects on animals remains limited, but the risk of animals spreading it to people seems quite low. In some situations, pets like dogs and cats have contracted the disease from people, and are known to have become sick after close contact with infected persons. In addition, some species of rodents, including ferrets, mink, and some hamsters, have proven to be able to contract and spread the virus to other animals during experimental lab settings. Some mink became infected on a farm in the Netherlands and showed both respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as a spike in the death rate. Research has so far shown dogs to be less susceptible to infection than cats and ferrets. Some primates, too, have shown to be able to become infected in lab environments, including common marmosets and African green monkeys. Mice, pigs, ducks, and chickens do not seem to be susceptible or affected by the virus, as they cannot become infected.
Keeping all this information in mind, the CDC has also released a series of precautionary guidelines and information to keep in mind if you’re a pet owner. While some guidelines focus on practicing basic hygiene, such as washing your hands each time you handle and animal and keeping your animals clean, others are nuanced by social distancing and quarantine. If you are a cat owner, the CDC recommends keeping your cat quarantined inside and not letting them roam outside. Dogs should adhere to social distancing guidelines, and should be walked six feet away from other humans and animals when out for a stroll. As always, public spaces where large groups gather and social distancing guidelines cannot be maintained should be avoided. If you or a loved one are sick, only a healthy person should care for and handle the pets if possible, and snuggling, cuddling, kisses, hugs, petting, and sleeping with your pet should be avoided at all costs to keep them healthy. If another person caring for you pet is simply out of the cards, make sure to wash your hands before interacting with them and to wear a mask to protect them.
And no matter what, please do NOT put a mask on your pet.