What Pet Owners Should Know After Tiger Contracts Covid-19

Officials warn sick people to isolate themselves from pets

Brendan Keany
April 06, 2020 - 5:52 pm
Baggerman's Cat

(WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

BUFFALO (WBEN) - Over the weekend, the Bronx Zoo reported a case of a Malayan tiger testing positive for Covid-19.

While the tiger is expected to recover, five other lions and tigers at the zoo began exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness. This is the first recorded case of a human transmitting the virus to an animal, as an asymptomatic zoo employee infected the tiger while caring for it.

The Bronx Zoo's Chief Veterinarian Dr. Paul Calle told ABC News that this transmission was not expected.

"We were surprised of course, because this is the first time a person has naturally infected an animal and the animal has gotten sick," said Calle.

This case has also sparked some concern among pet owners. Doctor Ann Hohenhaus with New York City's Animal Medical Center has some advice.

"If you're sick, isolate yourself from all members of the family, and that includes the pets," said Hohenhaus. "Pet cats have almost the identical virus receptor on their cells that lets the virus in that people do."

The Buffalo Zoo has since revisited their protocols in caring for animals now that human to animal transmission is possible.

"We already had in place, well before the Covid-19 situation arose, very strict protocols around proper personal protection equipment for our staff as it relates to working around the animals, so we have certainly continued with that practice, and we've re-evaluated that situation with our cats," said Norah Fletchall, president & CEO of the Buffalo Zoo. "We are practicing the highest level of personal protection that we can and feel needs to be in effect. As the situation changes and develops, we will respond to that in the appropriate way to continue to protect our animals and protect our staff."

Like every zoo and aquarium across the country at the moment, the Buffalo Zoo is experiencing a significant loss of revenue. Fletchall is encouraging everyone who is able to donate to the emergency response fund, which people can access through buffalozoo.org.

"We are unable to shut our facility down entirely," she said. "...we are very fortunate that we are able to maintain the top-notch care for the animals."

Listen to Fletchall's comments below:

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