This is the first known case in the world where an animal has been tested positive for coronavirus.
It is believed the animal contracted the illness from a zoo employee who was actively shedding the virus, the department says. Staff will use surgical face masks and gloves during interaction with cats, otters and ferrets.
Paul Calle, the zoo's head veterinarian, said: "We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution (to)...contribute to the world's continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus". Swabs were collected from the animals every two days for the next two weeks. The zoo says the big cats are expected to fully recover. As a result, zookeepers are on "heightened vigilance".
Apart from human beings, multiple viruses belonging to the coronaviruses family can affect mammals, including cats, dogs, pigs, cattle, camels, hedgehogs and birds. During regular operating hours, visitors can mingle and feed these creatures almost every day.
For now, the American Kennel Club says that pet owners in the United States do not need to do anything other than maintain good hygiene like washing hands and avoid sharing kisses, food, or other contact that could spread respiratory droplets. COVID-19, which shows that it will be transmitted even to tigers, seems to take its place among the most contagious epidemics.
Should any animal showing signs of respiratory illness be tested? "Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the new coronavirus", the CDC advised on its website.
The sample from Nadia was tested at veterinary diagnostic labs that aren't approved to analyze human tests.
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The deadly outbreak which is driven by person-to-person transmission has now raised new questions about the transmission of the virus in animals.
The agency said it and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are both monitoring the situation, saying that anyone who is sick should restrict their access to animals, including pets.
He said he intends to share the findings with other zoos and institutions researching the transmission of Covid-19.
One cat was tested, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia, and officials have taken her positive test as a confirmation that all of these big cats with symptoms have been infected. Nadia is the only animal to be tested, according to the USDA.