Since spring, the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory has tested nearly 80 animals, including 38 dogs, 29 cats, two ferrets, a camel and two tamanduas, a type of anteater. The lab also tested six minks from the outbreak in Utah, five of which accounted for the lab's only positive tests.
All told, nearly 1,400 animals have been tested for Covid-19 through the National Animal Health Laboratory Network or private labs, said Lyndsay Cole, a spokesperson for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. More than 400 animals have been tested through the National Veterinary Services Laboratories. At least 250 more have been tested through academic research projects.
The vast majority of the tests have been in household cats and dogs with suspicious respiratory symptoms. In June, the USDA reported that a dog in New York was the first pet dog to test positive for the coronavirus after falling ill and struggling to breathe. The dog, a 7-year-old German shepherd named Buddy, later died. Officials determined he'd contracted the virus from his owner.
Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the USDA recommends routine testing for house pets or other animals — but that hasn't stopped owners from asking, said Dr. Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
"The questions have become a little more consistent at my practice," he said. "People do want to know about Covid-19 and their pets. Can their pet pick it up at a clinic or boarding or in doggie day care?"
The answer, so far, is that humans are the primary source of infection in pets. Last month, a small, unpublished study
from the University of Guelph in Canada, found that companion cats and dogs appeared to be infected by their sick owners, judging by antibodies to the coronavirus detected in their blood.
In Texas, Hamer started testing animals from households where someone had caught Covid-19 to learn more about transmission pathways. "Right now, we're very much trying to describe what's happening in nature," she said.
So far, most of the animals — including Phoenix, Romoser's cat — have shown no signs of illness or disease. That's true so far for many species of animals tested for Covid-19, veterinarians said. Most nonhuman creatures appear to weather Covid-19 infection with mild symptoms like sniffles and lethargy, if any.
Still, owners should apply best practices for avoiding Covid-19 infection to pets, too, Kratt said. Don't let pets come into contact with unfamiliar animals, he suggested. Owners should wash hands frequently and avoid nuzzling and other very close contact, if possible.
Cats appear to be more susceptible to Covid-19 than dogs, researchers said. And minks, which are farmed in the US and elsewhere for their fur, appear quite vulnerable.
In the meantime, the list of creatures tested for Covid-19 — whether for illness or science — is growing. In Florida, 22 animals had been tested as of early this month, including three wild dolphins, two civets, two clouded leopards, a gorilla, an orangutan, an alpaca and a bush baby, state officials said.
In California, 29 animals had been tested by the end of September, including a meerkat, a monkey and a coatimundi, a member of the raccoon family.
In Seattle, a plan to test orcas, or killer whales, in Puget Sound was called off at the last minute after one member of the scientific team was exposed to Covid-19 and had to quarantine, said Dr. Joe Gaydos, a senior wildlife veterinarian and science director for the SeaDoc Society, a conservation program at the University of California-Davis. The group missed its September window to locate the animals and obtain breath and fecal samples for analysis.