It’s official — the first dog to test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. has died. Buddy, a 7-year-old German shepherd, was from Staten Island, NY, and passed away on July 11 after dealing with the disease for three months, according to National Geographic. Reportedly, he most likely caught it from his owner, Robert Mahoney, who also tested positive earlier this year.
But wait a minute, wasn’t it just a few months ago that we were told that dogs couldn’t contract coronavirus? Yes, but since then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information that a few pets, including cats and dogs, had been infected with the virus that leads to COVID-19 after the animals were in close contact with people who had COVID. While pets can contract the virus, however, it’s less likely that they can pass it on.
While experts say it’s very rare for pets to contract the disease, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Fewer than 25 dogs and cats have been confirmed to be infected with coronavirus in the U.S., according to the USDA, with the most cases in New York and Utah. Currently, it’s not mandatory to get animals tested if they live in homes with people who have tested positive for coronavirus, so there’s no way to know exactly how many household pets are actually infected, or if specific animals are at risk.
Veterinarians who looked at Buddy’s medical records also say it seems like he had cancer, although it’s unclear if that made him more vulnerable to coronavirus, or if it was the virus that made him ill. Either way, dogs and other animals are not immune the way experts once said they were, and Buddy's health records help to illuminate how little experts actually know about how the virus affects animals, so it’s probably good to take precautions.
If you have a dog, it’s recommended that you avoid dog parks or public places where many people and dogs gather, and that you also keep your dog at least six feet away from other people and animals when walking them. The CDC specifically recommends that if your pet tests positive, you should isolate the pet from everyone else, including other pets.
Unfortunately, it may be difficult to tell if your dog is ill considering that not all pets show signs of sickness. The agency also recommends looking after your dog’s symptoms the same way you would pay attention to your own, and to call a veterinarian as soon as needed.