A pug in North Carolina named Winston has tested positive for the coronavirus in what is apparently the first known case in which the virus was detected in a dog in the United States, researchers at Duke University said Tuesday.
The dog belongs to a Chapel Hill family participating in a research study at the university, in which researchers were trying to understand how humans respond to different types of infection. Three of the family members, Dr. Heather McLean, Dr. Samuel McLean and their son Ben McLean, were also infected by the virus.
The dog’s symptoms lasted only a few days and were mild, according to members of the family — he was sluggish, sneezing and breathing heavily. Most telling of all, they said, he didn’t finish breakfast one morning.
Winston’s preliminary test results, if confirmed by the U.S. Agriculture Department, will raise broader questions about how susceptible animals are to the coronavirus. Experts have said that there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to people, and that people should not worry about giving the virus to their pets.
Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said Winston could have licked something or someone with the virus, causing him to test positive, but that did not mean that the virus was in his bloodstream.
Pugs sneeze every day, and not finishing a meal doesn’t sound concerning, Howe added.
“I don’t believe he was truly infected — you would need to do an antibody test,” he continued, adding that it is important that people provide their pets with love and care.
“Your pets are not going to catch it from you,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends treating pets as you would your human relatives. They should be isolated from any sick family members and should steer clear from interacting with people outside.
Of the family pets tested, Winston, who is 2, was the only one to test positive. Both Otis, 13, the older of the McLeans’s two pugs, and Mr. Nibs, a 12-year-old tabby cat, tested negative. (The family also has a lizard, which was not tested.) WRAL, a North Carolina television station, first reported the results.
The McLeans said that if any of their pets tested positive, it would definitely be Winston. He is the most cuddly of the lot. He sleeps in bed with Heather and Samuel McLean, both medical doctors. And he hasn’t exactly been social distancing from members of his family, who said they did not think a dog could catch the virus.
“We constantly snuggle with him, putting his face in our face,” Ben McLean, 20, said. “When we put all our plates in the dishwasher, he perches on the dishwasher and licks some of the plates.”
Their daughter, Sydney McLean, 17, who is the only member of the family who has tested negative for the virus, helped hold the animals while the researchers were taking the samples.
Dr. Chris Woods, head of a Duke University research team that is focusing on the coronavirus, said that researchers found a low amount of 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. Some of Winston’s symptoms were similar to human symptoms, like difficulty breathing.
There’s no evidence that dogs can transmit the virus to humans, Woods said, adding that the detection of the virus won’t affect how he interacted with his own dog, a basset hound. “They are serving such an important role in our mental health in our households at the moment,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department said that the agency was aware of the report and was following up, but that it had not yet confirmed the test results. If confirmed, Winston would be the first official case of a dog testing positive for the coronavirus in the United States.
Winston is among the first of a small number of both dogs and cats that have tested positive for the coronavirus. One of two dogs in Hong Kong that tested positive, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, died, although its ongoing health issues were probably responsible for the death, rather than the coronavirus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a group representing U.S. veterinarians.
A cat in Hong Kong, a cat in Belgium and two cats in New York have also tested positive, the group said. In one of the New York cases, the owner had tested positive for the virus, while in the other, no human in the household had tested positive. The group said it did not have any information that suggested that pets might infect humans.
A tiger at the Bronx Zoo also tested positive for the coronavirus, probably contracting it from a zoo employee, the Agriculture Department said this month. Although only one tiger was tested, the department said, the virus appeared to have infected other animals as well. Several lions and tigers showed symptoms, but they were expected to recover.
Winston, these days, is back to his usual self, Heather McLean said. He takes long walks, naps and plays with his favorite toy, Lambie. “We have all recovered,” Ben McLean said, “including Winston.”