According to the zoo, one of the tiger's caregivers infected her. That employee was not showing symptoms at the time.
Dr. Deb Zoran, professor of medicine and a clinical veterinarian at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, said animals like cats have carried coronaviruses before.
"Anybody that's had cats understands FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) virus. That's a cat coronavirus that's been around forever that's sort of befuddled veterinarians and researchers for a long time," Dr. Zoran said.
She's not surprised the tiger tested positive.
"I guess my first thought was a little bit of, 'Oh, dang. Now, it's here,'" she said. "It's not surprising to any of us that the coronavirus could, potentially, infect other species besides humans, especially when we're talking about dogs and cats that are living in such close proximity to their human counterparts."
While there is still so much researchers and veterinarians need to understand, she recommends people follow the same guidelines they would if a family member were to test positive for COVID-19.
"If you are a person that has pets and you become ill, it really is in everyone's best interest – yours and your pets, apparently – that we separate so that we reduce the risk of that virus either being just deposited on the surface of the coat of the pet, which is very likely," Dr. Zoran said. "You're sneezing, you're coughing, you're sick. You're sneezing into your hands with a Kleenex and then rubbing your pet's head or rubbing your pet's underfur, as we all do, so that's an easy way to transmit the virus."
However, right now, it's still too early to tell whether it's possible an animal can transmit the virus to another human or animal.
"We don't think that's the case. All of the evidence points to ... it's not the case," she said. "But it's not for sure yet, so we have to be super, super careful and take the utmost precautions just not to allow that to become a problem in your household."
For now, Dr. Zoran recommends people wash their hands before and after petting their dogs or cats. You could also wear a mask around them if you leave your home often and are more at-risk of contracting the virus.
"It's really a good time for us to remind ourselves that while we're social distancing with people, it's probably not the worst idea to be social distancing from our pets," she said.
But at the same time, she wants people to focus on the bigger issue.
"This virus is still with us. And we still haven't gotten our arms wrapped around it and have gotten it contained," she said. "We still need to be doing our own social distancing. We still need to take care of the business at hand of getting this thing stopped in the human population."
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