If we still learn about how the coronavirus spreads to people and why some people get so much sicker than others – we have hardly scribbled what it does to pets.
Although the number of globally infected animals remains relatively low, the first American dog to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has sadly died.
National Geographic identified the puppy as Buddy, a 7-year-old German Shepherd from Staten Island, NY, in an exclusive interview with his family published this week. Buddy died on July 11, just two and a half months after he started wheezing and getting thick mucus in his nose. But the Mahoney family’s struggle to get him tested and fully understand why their pet’s health was declining so quickly – and whether lymphoma, which played a role until the day he died – illustrates how many questions remain virus’ effect on animals.
“You tell people that your dog was positive and they look at you [as if you have] 10 heads, ”Allison Mahoney, one of Buddy’s owners, told National Geographic. ‘[Buddy] was the love of our life … He brought joy to everyone. I can’t wrap my head around it. ‘
The family explained that Buddy began to have breathing difficulties in mid-April, when Allison’s husband Robert Mahoney had been sick with the virus for three weeks. “Without a doubt, I thought [Buddy] was positive, ”said Robert.
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But the first few vets they visited were skeptical that Buddy had the coronavirus. In some cases, clinics simply did not have the COVID-19 test on hand to find out. The third clinic visited by the Mahoneys eventually tested Buddy and he was found positive for COVID-19 on May 15, a month after his symptoms started. On May 20, he tested negative for the virus, indicating that it was no longer present in his body – although he did have the antibodies to it, which was further evidence that he was infected. The United States Department of Agriculture has signed up a press release of June 2 that Buddy was the first confirmed case of dog COVID-19 in the country.
However, Buddy’s diagnosis raised more questions: Could he have spread it to the family’s 10-month-old German Shepherd puppy, Duke, or anyone else in the house? (He didn’t.) Had he contracted it from Robert? (That seems likely.) And why did this otherwise healthy dog’s health suddenly crash despite receiving prescription antibiotics and steroids? (He was not yet diagnosed with possible lymphoma.) He lost weight and started to have difficulty walking. And on the morning of July 11, the poor dog started vomiting clotted blood. There was nothing more the family or vets could do for Buddy, so they made the difficult decision to put him to sleep.
But new blood tests done the day Buddy was euthanized revealed he likely had lymphoma, a cancer that could explain some of his symptoms by the end. But it’s still unclear if this underlying condition made him more vulnerable to the coronavirus, or if the coronavirus first made him sick – or if it was just bad, accidental timing.
The Mahoneys have no guilt or ill will towards the clinic. “I think they also learn. It’s all trial and error. And they tried to help us the best they could, ”Allison said.
They wish health officials had performed an autopsy (essentially a pet autopsy or a post-death medical exam) to learn more about the virus in Buddy’s body. The family doesn’t remember anyone asking them about a necropsy the day Buddy was euthanized, although they admit the sad day was a blur. Robert Cohen, the Bay Street Animal Clinic vet who treated Buddy – who lost his own father to COVID-19 a few weeks ago – told National Geographic that he asked the NYC Department of Health if it needed Buddy’s body for follow-up . Research. But by the time NYCDOH responded with a decision to perform an autopsy, Buddy was already cremated. So we’re not sure if the corona virus killed Buddy.
“Buddy testing did reveal an infection with SARs-CoV-2 [the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19]”He also had lymphoma, which can cause clinical symptoms similar to those described, and it was most likely a primary reason for his illness and ultimately death,” said Dr. Doug Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), to MarketWatch by email.
“We need to learn a lot more about this virus and this disease,” he continued. “Research is underway to determine the full range of SARS-CoV-2, how infection with the virus can affect animals and which animals are susceptible and why (or why not).”
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While this case raises many questions about the coronavirus in animals, this is what we do know. On the plus side, there are very few cases of COVID-19 in animals, especially compared to humans. Although the virus has infected more than 17 million people worldwide, there are fewer than 25 confirmed cases in pets worldwide – although it should be noted that pets have not been widely tested.
The CDC still does not recommend routine pet testing, mainly because there is no evidence that pets spread the virus to humans, and also because there are many health problems that can cause symptoms similar to COVID-19 in pets. “Because these other conditions are much more common than SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals, routine testing of pets for SARS-CoV-2 is currently not recommended by infectious disease veterinary experts, health experts or public health veterinarians, “Dr. Kratt said. “Testing may be appropriate in certain situations after a pet has been fully assessed by a vet to rule out other causes of his illness.”
So it remains unclear how many pets have been tested in the U.S. or how much can carry the coronavirus.
“We don’t want people to panic. We don’t want people to fear pets or rush to test them en masse, CDC official Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh at the AP. “There is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading this disease to humans.” In addition, the pets that get sick generally have mild symptoms and usually recover.
But Buddy’s deadly case raises questions about whether more pets should be tested in the future, or if animals with underlying conditions could be more vulnerable to the virus, just as many people with pre-existing health problems have been hit harder by COVID- 19. “It is certain that the underlying condition can weaken the dog’s natural defenses for many things,” a South Carolina vet told National Geographic.
The FDA and the CDC recommend that people take social distance from their pets, such as keeping dogs on a leash and six feet away from dogs and those not from their household. Anyone who gets sick from the coronavirus should isolate themselves from their pets if possible, as there are indications that pets can catch the virus from humans. And the UK veterinary chef has warned pet owners to stop kissing their pets, sharing food with them, or sharing beds with them.
Click here to learn more about what we know so far about pets and coronavirus, as well as answers to many questions about caring for pets during the pandemic.
And for more information, check out the following resources:
American Veterinary Medical Association: avma.org
The Centers for Disease Control: cdc.gov/coronavirus
And learn more about MarketWatch’s corona virus coverage here.