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Officials seek to ease concern over pets as tiger gets COVID-19

CDC and USDA see no reason to test healthy pets

Federal agencies say there’s no need to test healthy pets or other animals as news of a Bronx Zoo tiger testing positive for coronavirus startled the public and raised questions on whether the pandemic could spread through zoos across the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said Sunday that animals should not be routinely tested for the novel coronavirus. They also said there’s no evidence that animals can transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to humans, but it appears humans may be able to pass the virus to animals.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19, the disease that has made hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. ill and killed more than 10,000 as of Monday. Kitty Block, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said people should keep in mind that authorities do not see pets as a health threat.

“It’s very important for people to understand that the CDC and the World Organisation for Animal Health have issued advisories saying there is no evidence at this time that companion animals can spread the COVID-19 virus to people,” Block said by email.

[How ‘Tiger King’ wooed Congress before it was ‘Tiger King’]

She said pet owners should know there’s no reason to fear their animals since animal shelters are already “bracing for a potential increase in intakes and owner surrender due to financial strain and widespread human illness.”

Block said people should instead start planning how to care for pets amid COVID-19 restrictions.

“We urge families to have a plan in place for enduring this crisis with their pets in the safety of their home. Some steps to take include identifying a family member or friend who can care for pets if someone in the household becomes hospitalized or too ill to care for their pets; and also having extra pet food and other supplies on hand,” she said.

In the case of the infected tiger, zoo authorities tested the animal when it started showing signs of illness on March 27 after contact with an employee who was later diagnosed with the virus. The National Veterinary Services Laboratories operated by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service found SARS-CoV-2 in the tiger’s sample. This is the first known case of an infected tiger in the United States.

Other tigers and lions near the infected tiger reportedly have coughs. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the animals will be watched.

“USDA and CDC are monitoring the situation and working to support the state and local health departments and state animal health officials,” a joint release by the agencies said. “State animal and public health officials will take the lead in making determinations about whether animals, either at this zoo or in other areas, should be tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. USDA will notify the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of this finding.”

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