A pug in North Carolina has tested positive for coronavirus, a first known case of the virus detected in a dog in the United States, researchers at Duke University said Tuesday.
The dog named Wilson belongs to a Chapel Hill family that has been participating in a research study at the university, where they were trying to understand how humans respond to different types of infection. Three family members of the household, Dr. Heather McLean, Dr. Samuel McLean and their son Ben McLean, have all been infected by the virus.
According to the family, Winston showed mild symptoms, including sneezing, breathing heavily and was sluggish. What gave it away that something’s wrong? They said he did not finish his breakfast one morning.
The US Agriculture Department said Winston’s preliminary test results will raise broader questions on how susceptible animals are to the disease. Experts have said there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to the people and vice versa.
Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said Winston may have licked something or someone with the virus, but it did not mean the virus was in his bloodstream.
“I don’t believe he was truly infected – you would need to do an antibody test,” he told The New York Times in an interview. “Your pets are not going to catch it from you.”
Aside from Winston, Otis, a 13-year-old pug, and Mr. Nibs, a 12-year-old tabby cat, have tested negative. The McLeans said Winston probably could have tested positive because he was the most cuddly of the lot. He has not been exactly social distancing with his hoomans, as he loves to snuggle with them in bed.
“We constantly snuggle with him, putting his face in our face,” Ben McLean said. “When we put all our places in the dishwasher, he perches on the dishwasher and licks some of the plates.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends treating companion animals as humans too and practice social distancing. If there is a sick family member, they should also be isolated and should not interact with people outside.
Dr. Chris Woods, head of a Duke University research team focusing on the coronavirus disease, said they found a low amount of the virus in the pug’s saliva.
“If you’ve ever seen a pug, they’ve got a big old tongue and are touching things, so it’s not all that surprising that that happened,” he said, adding that there is still no evidence that dogs can transmit the virus to humans.
These days, the McLean family said Winston is back to his usual self, taking long walks, naps, and plays his favorite toy, Lambie.
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