El Paso expert explains how a tiger is tested for COVID-19


4-year-old Malaysian Tiger, Nadia, tests positive for coronavirus. (Courtesy/Bronx Zoo)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Tigers can be infected with COVID-19, and it has nothing to do with Joe Exotic, “Doc” Antle, or Carole Baskins of Netflix’s hit series “Tiger King.”

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, which has raised concerns for animal and pet lovers around the country.

The tiger, whose name is Nadia, and other large cats began showing symptoms of a respiratory illness similar to humans: dry cough, loss of appetite, not quite themselves.

Nadia was anesthetized and tested using nasal swabs and brachial washes. One, two, three separate labs tested and eventually all confirmed the test was positive.

Nadia (and likely other big cats) contracted the pandemic that has reshaped our world.

Like the human version, COVID-19 tests for animals are limited and require an extensive bureaucratic process.

“This test is not available to your local veterinarian,” Dr. Ken Waldrup, Regional Zoonosis Veterinarian tells KTSM.

“To submit these tests to the National Veterinary Services lab, there has to be an agreement between the state animal veterinarian.”

Both the executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, Dr. Andy Schwartz, and the Texas Department of State Health Zoonosis Control (Waldrup’s branch) would have to agree that an animal should be tested. Then they would consult the USDA.

“So all of these folks have to agree that it’s worth while to test those animals,” says Waldrup.

Like the first SARS outbreak about ten years ago, cats and ferrets are susceptible to contracting SARS II, also known as COVID-19. Health officials believe the big cats at the Bronx Zoo were exposed to COVID-19 particles from an asymptomatic employee who was shedding the virus.

The case at the Bronx Zoo has pet owners concerned, but the USDA and Dr. Waldrup urge people to understand that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted from animals like cats and dogs.

“Please don’t dump your animals because you think you’re going to get coronavirus from them,” says Dr. Waldrup.

“People give it to animals, we don’t have any evidence that it goes the other way.”

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