Buddy, a German shepherd from Staten Island, N.Y. is the first American dog to die after contracting the coronavirus, months after he was first diagnosed.
According to the American Humane Society, the dog contracted the virus after living in a household with family members who tested positive for COVID-19.
Buddy, who was euthanized on July 11, became symptomatic in April with lethargy, weight loss and breathing troubles, according to National Geographic. Owners Robert (who tested positive for COVID-19) and Allison Mahoney took him to different veterinarians who diagnosed the 7-year-old dog with COVID-19 on May 15. “You tell people that your dog was positive, and they look at you [as if you have] 10 heads,” Allison told National Geographic.
Bloodwork suggested that Buddy may have suffered from lymphoma, cancer that develops in the lymph nodes, and it’s unclear whether the virus played a leading role in his death. According to National Geographic, the New York City Department of Health didn’t perform a necropsy because Buddy was cremated. The United States Department of Agriculture keeps a running list of animals infected with COVID-19 that includes dogs, cats, a tiger and a lion. It had confirmed that a pet dog in New York had tested positive for the virus in June, indicating “this is the first dog in the United States to test positive for SARS-CoV-2.”
On Thursday, the American Humane Society said in on its website, “We share in the grief Buddy’s family is no doubt feeling over the loss of their beloved companion during what already is an extremely stressful time.” It included tips from The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association on keeping pets safe: having on-call pet care if owners get sick, applying social distancing rules to pets (and avoiding dog parks) and if owners do get sick, to limit contact with pets or wear face masks and practice hand hygiene.
According to June 28 guidance from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “a small number of pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19.” It added that infected pets may or may not show symptoms, however “of the pets that have gotten sick, most only had mild illness and fully recovered.”
The CDC notes that pet owners should keep pets away from the general public, keeping cats indoors as much as possible and leashed dogs six feet apart from others. The agency also warned that putting face coverings on pets and wiping pets with cleaning products not intended for animals could be harmful.
In an earlier document, the CDC said listed “fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, nose or eye discharge, vomiting, or diarrhea,” as signs of pet illness. And stated that routine testing for SARS-CoV-2 isn’t necessary, with veterinarians first ruling out other illnesses. “At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people,” stated the CDC. “COVID-19 is mainly spreading from person to person through close contact. There is no reason to give up or euthanize pets because of SARS-CoV-2.”
Buddy’s death comes months after the CDC announced that two cats in New York tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The organization released a detailed paper on what occurred — with some important information for other pet owners.
The report, published June 8, reveals that the two domestic cats carried the virus — one for eight days and the other 10 days. The first cat, a 4-year-old male domestic shorthair had symptoms “characterized by sneezing, clear ocular discharge, and mild lethargy.” The second cat, a 5-year-old female Devon Rex, “developed respiratory illness including sneezing, coughing, watery nasal and ocular discharge, loss of appetite, and lethargy.”
The domestic shorthair cat, located in Nassau County, New York, lived in a home with five people, three of whom showed symptoms of COVID-19 (but none of whom were tested). Another cat living in the same home showed no symptoms of the virus and was therefore not tested. The Devon Rex, which was located in Orange County, New York in a single-family home where the owner tested positive for the coronavirus.
Both cats — the two first reported pets to test positive for the virus — made a full recovery, and no transmission from the cats (to either other animals or humans) was reported. The CDC notes that, as a result, pets contracting the virus is likely an extremely rare occurrence. But adds that it doesn’t mean pet owners should ignore this aspect of the pandemic.
Best Friends Animal Society, a no-kill animal rescue and advocacy organization, has created an expanded list of recommendations in its pet preparedness plan. The guide breaks down how to handle pets in a variety of scenarios. For those who believe they may have COVID-19, and live in a place with other people, Best Friends recommends designating a healthy person to “assume full responsibility for caring for your pet” until you are well. “Have the healthy member of your household wash and clean any pet bowls, leashes, crates, bedding and toys, and keep those items separate from the part of the house in which you are staying,” Best Friends writes.
If you are experiencing symptoms and live alone, the organization recommends choosing “an emergency pet caregiver” (like a friend or family member) who can take care of your pet until symptoms disappear. “Ideally, this person should take your pet to their home to avoid them having to routinely visit your home and risk exposure,” the plan reads. “Prepare your pets’ essential items (food, bowls, leashes, etc.) and place them near your door so the caregiver can easily grab them when they come to pick up your pet.”
Finally, for those without someone available to care for the pet, Best Friends recommends taking them to a local vet or another facility that can care for the animal until you are well.
Although more details on how COVID-19 presents in cats may seem alarming, Dr. Erin Katribe, medical director of Best Friends Animal Society, tells Yahoo Life in a statement that pet owners shouldn’t panic, but rather should stay informed. “There is no reason to panic about your pet giving you COVID-19 as there have been no reported cases of it spreading from pet to person,” Katribe said in a statement. “Instead, it is important to practice social distancing and create a plan for the continued maintenance of the pets in your care if you’re unable to leave the house, too sick to function at home, or become hospitalized.”
— Additional reporting by Elise Solé
This story was originally published on June 8, 2020, at 2:24 p.m. ET and has been updated to include new information.