The virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected in a family’s dog, possibly for the first time, a North Caroline healthcare provider reported.
Duke Health said Monday night the virus had been confirmed in a dog in the home of a Chapel Hill family who had enrolled in a study at Duke, according to WRAL-TV. Most of the family members had also tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
The family and their pets — except for a bearded dragon — were tested as part of an epidemiological study at Duke, said Dr. Heather McLean, a Duke pediatrician whose family was the subject of the discovery.
“To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which the virus has been detected in a dog,” Dr. Chris Woods, director of the Hubert-Yeargan Center for Global Health, said in a statement released by Duke Health.
“Little additional information is known at this time as we work to learn more about the exposure,” he said.
McLean’s daughter and two other family pets, a pug dog and a cat, had tested negative for the virus, McLean said.
But, McLean, her husband, their son and their other, a 2½-year-old pug named Winston, tested positive.
While his symptoms were mild, the family noticed Winston making a gagging sound and not eating breakfast one day, which was unusual for him, McLean said.
He wasn’t tested because they thought he was sick, she said, but to support Duke’s research. McLean and her husband are both doctors and wanted their experience with the coronavirus to help others.
“If there are things that the research team can learn about the virus that is in us and how our bodies react to it — whether we develop antibodies, the pets — that would be really exciting to us if we could contribute to that body of knowledge,” McLean said. “We were more than happy to participate.”
The test that confirmed the virus in Winston was different from the test used on people, she said.
The COVID-19 outbreak is thought to have originated in a live-animal market in China.
The first known case in the United States of an animal testing positive for the virus was a 4-year-old Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City.
Winston may be the first dog in the U.S. to test positive, but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is aware of cases in dogs reported elsewhere in the world.
McLean also suspects there are others that haven’t been confirmed but said she doesn’t want to make people worry about their pets because of hers.
“He’s always with me, laying on my lap, and he’s very affectionate,” she said. “We knew if any of the pets tested positive, it would be him.”
The American Kennel Club reports on its website that two pet dogs in Hong Kong tested positive and were likely cases of “human-to-animal transmission.” Neither dog appeared to be sick from the virus, it said.
And the CDC last week announced the first confirmed cases of two pet cats, both in New York, testing positive for the virus.
In general, the CDC says the types of coronaviruses that infect animals rarely spread to people and the risk of getting COVID-19 from an animal is considered low.
Still, the CDC recommends people treat their pets like family members.
“Do not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household,” it states. “If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets.”
And Winston? As of Tuesday, he and his family were doing fine, McLean said.