After Bronx Zoo Tiger Gets Covid-19, Government Issues More Info on Animal Contagion


Photo of a tiger at the Bronx Zoo (not necessarily the infected one) by Chris Costello.

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for Covid-19, raising new concerns about whether animals can indeed get the disease. Lions at the zoo also showed signs of respiratory illnesses afterwards, though they weren’t tested. The USDA explained how they think the animal got infected:

Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. The zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27. All of these large cats are expected to recover. There is no evidence that other animals in other areas of the zoo are showing symptoms.

Some animals have been diagnosed with the virus in other countries, but this appears to be the first one diagnosed in the U.S. There’s been some conflicting information on animals getting and giving Covid-19, and here’s what the USDA said after the positive test.

Anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction.

Questions and Answers:

Can people give this virus to animals and, if so, what animals are at risk?

This is the first case of its kind. We are still learning about this new coronavirus and how it spreads. This case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19. State animal and public health officials will continue to work closely with USDA and CDC to monitor this situation and will conduct additional testing if it is warranted.

If multiple animals were showing symptoms, why was only one tested?

Only one tiger was tested as the collection of diagnostic samples in big cats requires general anesthesia. Since all tigers and lions were exhibiting similar respiratory symptoms, the attending veterinarian felt it was in the best interest of the animals to limit the potential risks of general anesthesia to one tiger for diagnostics.

If animals can catch the virus, can they give it back to people?

At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.

Will this finding prompt additional testing of animals?

No. This is an evolving situation, however, routine testing of zoo or personal animals is not recommended at this time. Public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals that are showing signs of illness and that are known to have been exposed to the virus. More information about how those decisions will be made is available here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf

Should any animal showing signs of respiratory illness be tested?

USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus. Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state or federal public and animal health officials.

Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick from coronavirus (COVID-19)?

You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets. More information is available on how to keep people and animals safe at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.

What should I do if I think my animal has the virus?

Call your veterinary clinic with any questions about your animal’s health. In order to ensure the veterinary clinic is prepared for the household animal, the owner should call ahead and arrange the hospital or clinic visit. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if your animal was exposed a person sick with COVID-19, and if your animal is showing any signs of illness. Veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will contact state animal health officials, who will work with public and animal health authorities to decide whether samples should be collected and tested.

Could this affect tigers or other animals at other zoos across the United States?

There is no evidence of this virus affecting animals at any other facilities in the United States. However, anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction.

NEWS | 29 comments | permalink
    1. C says:

      Tiger King contagion. The Sickness spreads.

    2. Covid Mary and Mike? says:

      Why was this tiger was able to get tested, and my wife and I haven’t been able to get tested even though we’ve been exposed to people with COVID-19? I’m concerned that we are infected and asymptomatic but I’m unable to confirm this.

      • Erica says:

        Because they don’t test animals the same way, is the obvious answer. At this time no people are being tested in NY unless you are admitted to the hospital. Which means your case is not dier.

        • Tim says:

          I don’t think that it is that true that only those hospitalized are being tested. Aren’t there still drive up testing locations in various places (Staten Island, Jones Beach, New Rochelle, Rockland, etc.)?

      • Jane says:

        I am very sorry for your family’s difficulty. I know that this is a trying time.

        The test performed on animals is different than the ones that are performed on humans. The tests were sent to a veterinarian school lab. As stated on the Zoo’s FB page. Therefore, their ability to be tested is quite different than those of humans because there is nothing similar about the testing process between the two.

        It is not a question of why an animal got tested before a human it is a question of why our leaders are failing us in this time of crisis.

      • Martin says:

        Another article says that the tiger test and the human test are different, so there is no competition between people and tigers.

        • JL says:

          The Humans have won the competition against all other animals (other than insects) a long time ago. We are just giving some real estate back to a few we like, or flavor.

          This is just Mother Nature’s way to rebalancing a little bit.

      • Drjulia says:

        The test was performed by a veterinary lab that can only process animal tests and it was a different test than the human version so the tiger being tested doesn’t detract from available resources for humans who need testing.

      • janis says:

        I was just thinking the same thing. The tiger had a dry cough and loss of appetite. How many people do you know that have a cough and just don’t feel like eating? A general malaise. And how many of them have been able to get tested?

        Covid Mary & Mike, I do hope you both are well, and are able to get tested soon.

        • JL says:

          as Erica mentioned above. NO test are given (for tracking) to Asymptomatic, Pre-symptomatic, mildly symptomatic, moderately symptomatic. Pandora’s loose.

          The strategy is the same for EVERYONE who is not in the hospital. Physical Distancing from people (now pets) you don’t live with. Do BEHAVE like you have it already for consideration of others. Act like everyone else has it for protection.

          The real test we ALL need is the WIDESPREAD antibody test and that’s months away.

          Stay connected, be kind to others. Let’s do our best to whether the first wave of the storm. Your own life might depend on it, we certainly do.

      • Bodega - Tiger says:

        Maybe you should don your best tiger (king) outfit and get yourself to the Bronx Zoo? Not sure you’d get the same reception at Lincoln Square Veterinary Hospital: they’re far too nice.

      • Geez says:

        Then you should quarantine for 14days after last exposure. No grocery no being near other people. That’s the whole point of the lockdown. Sheesh. That said, I am glad your family is not sick. Be thankful for that.

      • Christine E says:

        From Dr. Paul Calle, Bronx Zoo chief veterinarian: “The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people. You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.”

      • NotImpressed says:

        Mary and Mike,
        The city DOH has advised all New Yorkers to assume they are infected.
        That’s why we are to observe social distaning and to wear masks outside the home.
        If you found you were asymptomatic and positive, what would you do that’s different?

    3. This is the problem with the USDA and their chosen verbiage: “Anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people.”

      The HUGE PROBLEM IS THAT MOST PEOPLE WHO GET SICK WITH COVID-19 ARE INDEED SPREADING IT BEFORE EXHIBITING SYMPTOMS.

      Therefore, “Every person should be wearing a scarf over their mouth and nose, in public places, and washing their hands after touching anything.

      The issue with animals is that “everyone should be wearing a mask and wash their hands before and after, touching any animal.” We literally have no idea if people can get the virus by being in contact with sick animals, at this point. So if your animal is sick you should also protect yourself from your own pet, with a mask and gloves when handing them. And call your vet as soon as your pets show any symptoms. No one wants a sick pet. Stay safe and proactive in your care of our community, our elders, and our pets.

    4. Ardith says:

      I thought some might be interested in this Chinese study
      Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and different domestic animals to SARS-coronavirus-2
      https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.30.015347v1.full.pdf?fbclid=IwAR09jNLwTOSh1TCtrabTu41hx-1cQiNwsOsprmDX2Vm8AinLOt601pbbQNI

    5. William Michael Traubert says:

      It seems that Tigers share a 95.6 DNA match with house cats and animals like cattle I am no scientists just a guy who wear a face mask to the green garden vegetable stand … but if can jump to Tigers it most likely can jump to cattle another primary food sources.
      The key takes away is that it can jump species
      some folks they have been making the case that African Swine Flu can jump also given China problem since 2018 with ASF and where CoVID-19 began maybe this is some sort of hybrid…

    6. LK says:

      So, we don’t have enough tests for people who are sick but now we’re testing zoo tigers 🤔

    7. Brian B says:

      I’m a human that had all symptoms and told by my doctor to assume I had COVID19; but testing was not available for me. Should I go to the zoo to see if I can get tested there? Don’t get me wrong, I am a pet owner and animal lover; but why are animals being tested before symptomatic humans??

    8. dw says:

      This statement is misleading and dangerous: “At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.” It may be true that there’s no evidence yet, but that absence of evidence is not proof that animals can’t infect people.

      Just as virus particles can be passed via doorknobs and elevator buttons, if virus particles wind up on a dog’s body (or any pet’s body) as a result of contact with an infected person, then in principle those particles can be transferred to anything else that might come in contact with the dog … such as people or other dogs. The question of whether or not the dog is (or can be) infected with coronavirus is irrelevant.

      Every day I see people in the park, wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart, watching their dogs wrestle together. No one yet knows for sure about all the ways this virus can be transmitted, but we should follow the precautionary principle and take no chances. Please don’t let your dog come into contact with people or other dogs living outside your home.

    9. stevieboy says:

      Gee, I wonder what Dr. Drew has to say about all of this?? Anyone?

      Just in case you missed it, Dr. Drew said this was all nonsense and that it was a big overreaction. And then he doubled down on it. He sold his soul to FOX News…

      More likely to be killed by an asteroid than Covid-19…..yup, he said that.

      https://streamable.com/l8agkx

    10. AnnoyedByRedundancy says:

      The repetitive comments in this thread strongly suggest that it’s time for this blog to stop reviewing every comment before it’s posted. I understand why that step was originally implemented but its result is annoying and detrimental to the community’s continued enjoyment of this blog. I don’t need to read ~20 comments about the difference between animal and human Covid19 testing. On most blogs, posters actually read the comments before posting as opposed to immediately posting as soon as they finish the article. This site needs comment streamlining, too. If comments are deemed to be offensive, they can be reported and removed after the fact. No one is going to be traumatized if an inappropriate comment lingers for a little while.

    11. JL says:

      @Tim and @Brian B:

      Lets just assume people who are not freaked out enough so they have time to read and reply here actually live in NYC, the epicenter of the US outbreak.

      What would be accomplished if you could get a confirmation that you’re + or –, regardless if you’re Asymptomatic, Pre-symptomatic, or symptomatic but well enough to drive to Jones Beach.

      Your strategy is the same– Physical Distancing from people/pets you don’t live with. Don’t harass your doctors unless you’re heading to the ER. If you haven’t headed for the woods or your cousin in Costa Rica, DON’T !

      They don’t want you bringing that **** there either.

      It is our(at every level) inability to see how individual actions can have a NEGATIVE affect on the community has put us in this predicament. The ignorant actions will circle back and bite someone who matters to you.

      In case not everyone has gotten the memo. It is now unsafe to go on your cruise vacation.

    12. RCP says:

      Gee, I wonder how they convinced the cat to let them swab its maw or nasal cavities to collect the culture needed for testing?

      • Christine E says:

        They have to put the animal under with general anesthesia to perform the test. Because doing so is inherently risky, they only tested one tiger, even though several tigers diplayed symptons.

        In that regard, tiger testing is like human testing: not everyone with symptoms can get tested.

    13. Tanya says:

      What are the symptoms of covid19 in an animal. How did they know the tiger was sick. Was his nose extremely dry and cracked?

    14. aissa says:

      soon we will lose this animal-like other tiger species