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First dog in the US tests positive for SARS-CoV-2

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If that headline gives you déjà vu (“Didn’t the first dog in the US already test positive for SARS-CoV-2? Like, a month ago?”), you’re probably thinking of Winston, a pug in North Carolina who was reported to have tested positive in late April.

But it turns out Winston didn’t have SARS-CoV-2 after all.

That’s the official verdict of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL), which carries out official confirmation of such results. When the NVSL tested Winston, they were unable to verify infection, and released their findings last week. “No virus was isolated, and there was no evidence of immune response,” Joelle Hayden, a USDA spokesperson, told the New York Times.

The “weak detection” of Winston’s original oral swab “may be the result of contamination from [his] COVID-19-positive household,” Hayden added. A low amount of the virus had been detected in the dog’s saliva.

Winston was clean.

But no sooner did dog owners across the country breathe a collective sigh of relief (“Maybe dogs can’t catch it after all!”) when a new dog stepped up to assume Winston’s recently vacated title: the NVSL confirmed today that a pet German shepherd in New York State is now the first dog in the US to (officially) test positive for SARS-CoV-2.

“Samples from the dog were taken after they showed signs of respiratory illness,” according to the USDA. “The dog is expected to make a full recovery.” As you might expect, one of the dog’s owners tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the dog showing signs.

This would appear to confirm that, in rare cases, people with COVID-19 can spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to animals during close contact.

So does the newly diagnosed dog change the COVID conversation? Should veterinarians be telling worried clients a different message?

Not if they’ve been telling them not to worry.

“It doesn’t really change the messaging at all,” J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, told NEWStat.

Weese, associate professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and member of AAHA’s Infection Control, Prevention, and Biosecurity Guidelines Task Force, has been tracking coronavirus developments for months in his blog, Worms and Germs, and addressed the topic of the German shepherd in a post on Monday.

“We’ve known human-pet transmission is possible, and this just provides more support to that,” Weese said. “Ultimately, it’s the same messaging: If you’re sick, stay away from animals, and keep your pets away from other pets or people. Beyond that, social distancing is still key, and that’s a household activity. If people keep their pets away from other pets and people, there’s pretty much no way the pet will bring COVID into the household.”

“Overall, we pose more of a risk to our pets than they do to us, if we use some common sense,” Weese added. “Veterinarians should continue to query household health status and take extra precautions for pets of infected people—[the] same as we’ve been saying.”

Health organizations, including the AVMA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, still don’t advocate routine testing for pets. State and local animal health and public health officials will work with the USDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make determinations about whether animals should be tested for SARS-CoV-2.

Photo credit: © iStock/pyotr021