Minnesota tiger tests positive for COVID-19 virus

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Saint Paul, Minn - A Minnesota tiger is confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, based on results from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories. The tiger lives at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Pine County, Minnesota. The sanctuary veterinarian reports the 21-year-old female Sumatran/Bengal tiger received supportive care and has recovered. Staff first noticed lions, tigers and cougars displaying symptoms in early January. Shortly after, the veterinarian consulted state animal health officials about testing for SARS-CoV-2 at a private laboratory before results were officially confirmed by the USDA.

“This marks only the second confirmed captive or domestic animal case of SARS-CoV-2 in the state,” said State Veterinarian, Dr. Beth Thompson. “It’s a good reminder that the virus can be transmitted from people to animals. We appreciate the veterinarians in the state who contact our office to discuss testing and surveillance of exposed and symptomatic animals so we can investigate with our state and federal partners.”

People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to some animals during close contact. Therefore, it’s important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection.

“We have not seen any evidence of COVID passing from pet or wild captive cats to humans,” said State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Joni Scheftel. “Yet, in an abundance of caution, MDH is working closely with The Wildcat Sanctuary to understand and monitor the situation.”

Caregivers and staff at The Wildcat Sanctuary have maintained strict COVID-19 protocols, wearing face masks, sanitizing hands and maintaining physical distance, since the onset of the pandemic early last year. The sanctuary is not open to the public.

“Though some of the animals experienced a decrease in appetite and intermittent wheezing, they are all bright, alert and responsive under close veterinary care. None of the cats are showing symptoms at this time and all are expected to fully recover,” said Tammy Thies, The Wildcat Sanctuary Executive Director.

While additional animals may test positive as infections continue in people, it is important to note that performing animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans. The Board announced one other SARS-CoV-2 positive animal in Minnesota since the start of the pandemic; a Carver County house cat in June 2020. The CDC has resources available for anyone interested in COVID-19 and animals.