First dog in U.S. tests positive for COVID-19, but it’s not a time for pet owners to panic

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It made headlines this week – the first dog in the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19. Naturally, the story got many dog owners worried. But the dog that tested positive wasn’t just any dog, it was a pug named Winston from North Carolina. In March, his human family, The McLean’s, tested positive for COVID-19. Then on April 1, the family joined a study conducted by Duke University, and to their surprise, Winston also tested positive.

Cindy Rothermel is in the medical field. She’s a respiratory therapist, but she’s also the director of Pug Hearts Houston, the largest pug rescue in the nation. When she saw the story, she reached out to the director at Duke University who did the study because she had a few questions regarding Winston’s case. To Cindy’s surprise and delight, he responded. While she asked a few questions, there’s one very important question she asked.

She asked, “Was there a definitive diagnosis, of the pug in question, of COVID-19, or just a Coronavirus positive result? Was any testing done for antibodies or titers?”

His response, “The test used was a quantitative PCR specific to the SARS2-COV. Viral culture has not been performed to confirm viable virus. The amount of virus was quite low and could have represented transient colonization given the animal’s family exposure.”

What that basically means is the pug could have simply tested positive because he was around an entire family that was infected with COVID-19. Cindy says that Winston could have easily licked a plate or eating utensil, anything really, and gotten some sort of droplets from them in his mouth – hence the low positive result.

There’s still more tests that need to be done to learn how the virus affects animals, but if you’re worried, the advice from the CDC is simple. Treat pets as you would humans. Some of their guidelines include things like:

  • Don’t let pets interact with other people or animals outside the house
  • Walk dogs on a leash to maintain social distancing
  • Avoid places like dog parks
  • If you have COVID-19, try to avoid as much contact with your pet as possible
  • If you must care for your pet, wear a face covering while doing so

Cindy told CW39 that she felt compelled to share the information she learned because she saw how much traction the story got, and she didn’t want it to have a negative impact on Pug Hearts Houston, or any dog rescue organization.

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