What Happens When A Dog Tests Positive for COVID19?

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When Buddy, a german shepherd who tested positive for the coronavirus died on July 11, the whole country mourned for him. Buddy was America’s first pet victim of the pandemic.

Here’s how buddy and his buddies story unfolded as chronicled by the National Geographic.

How did it happen?

  • In mid-April, right before his seventh birthday, Buddy began struggling to breathe.
  • Six weeks later, he became the first dog in the United States to be confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2, the pandemic disease that was sweeping the whole world.
  • He eventually died on July 11.

Suffering from Cancer

Medical records provided by the Mahoneys and reviewed for National Geographic by two veterinarians who were not involved in his treatment indicate that Buddy likely had lymphoma, a type of cancer, which would explain the symptoms he suffered just before his death. The family came to know about this when the cancer test reports arrived on his death.

IT WASN’T CLEAR WHETHER IT WAS JUST A COINCIDENCE OR DID THE CANCER CONDITION MADE THE DOG SUSCEPTIBLE TO THE VIRUS

The General Disbelief 

“YOU TELL PEOPLE THAT YOUR DOG WAS POSITIVE, AND THEY LOOK AT YOU [AS IF YOU HAVE] TEN HEADS,” ALLISON MAHONEY SAYS. “[BUDDY] WAS THE LOVE OF OUR LIVES….HE BROUGHT JOY TO EVERYBODY. I CAN’T WRAP MY HEAD AROUND IT.”

The Mahoneys say they are frustrated that health experts didn’t more closely probe possible connections between the pandemic and the cascading health problems. After Buddy’s diagnosis, Allison’s husband, Robert, asked New York City veterinary health officials, who were in charge of the case, whether they were interested in doing more testing on Buddy.

ROBERT MAHONEY SAYS THE OFFICIALS NEVER ASKED FOR FURTHER TESTING OR EXAMS.

THE NARRATIVE FOR THE CORONAVIRUS IN ANIMALS HAS SO FAR BEEN CONSISTENT AND NARROW: THEY ARE RARELY AFFECTED. WHEN THEY DO GET THE VIRUS, IT’S ALMOST ALWAYS FROM AN OWNER. THEY HAVE MILD SYMPTOMS. THEY USUALLY RECOVER. IN REALITY, LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT HOW THE VIRUS AFFECTS THE AVERAGE PET DOG.

The New York City Department of Health told National Geographic that because Buddy was severely anemic, it did not want to collect additional blood out of concern for the dog’s health, and that confirmation results indicate it was unlikely that he was still shedding virus—meaning he was probably no longer contagious—by May 20, when he was tested the second time. Buddy wasn’t tested after that date.

The Symptoms of Decline in Buddy

  • Buddy started sneezing heavily and has thick mucus in the nose back in April. His owner who himself was suffering from COVID19 then, suspected that the dog had the virus. But no vet would examine him and there weren’t any animal test kits available.
  • After a week the german shepherd started losing appetite.
  • From April 21 to May 15, Buddy continued to lose weight. He became increasingly lethargic.
  • He got an ultrasound and X-rays, which indicated an enlarged spleen and liver, and he saw a cardiologist, who detected a heart murmur.
  • Buddy spent two and a half weeks on antibiotics and two heart medications, and he was subsequently put on steroids.
  • At this point, Robert Mahoney says, Buddy’s doctors were still doubtful he had the virus, and they had not yet identified lymphoma.

IT WAS AT THE THIRD VETERINARY CLINIC, BAY STREET ANIMAL HOSPITAL, WHERE MAHONEY WAS FINALLY ABLE TO HAVE BUDDY TESTED THAT WAS ON MAY 15, ONE MONTH AFTER BUDDY’S BREATHING TROUBLE BEGAN.

A few days later, the clinic called to declare he was positive. Mahoney was told to bring both the family’s dogs to the clinic immediately because health officials needed to confirm Buddy’s results and test Duke, their puppy.

How Vet Clinics Doing Tests?

WHEN MAHONEY ARRIVED AT THE CLINIC WITH THE DOGS ON MAY 20, HE SAYS THAT “THEY CAME GREETING ME LOOKING LIKE SPACE MARTIANS WITH HAZMAT SUITS.”

“For us it was a shock factor for a moment there…how do we protect our staff?” says Robert Cohen, a veterinarian at Bay Street who treated Buddy, because little is known about infected dogs’ ability to transfer the virus to other dogs or humans. “We were well-PPE’d,” he says, referring to personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.

Officials collected samples from Buddy and Duke, then sent them home.

Cohen, the veterinarian at Bay Street Animal Clinic, said “We know that we had a very sick patient,” he says, adding that the clinic was only “peripherally involved in the [SARS-CoV-2] case in a lot of ways.”

“WE HAD ZERO KNOWLEDGE OR EXPERIENCE WITH THE SCIENTIFIC BASIS OF COVID IN DOGS,” HE SAYS. EVEN WITH ALL THE EXPERTS ON ONE CALL, HE SAYS, “THERE WAS A LOT OF SILENCE ON THE PHONE. I DON’T THINK ANYBODY KNEW. I REALLY DON’T THINK ANYBODY KNEW AT THAT POINT.”

The first dog to test positive

On June 2, the New York City Department of Health called Mahoney to tell him that Buddy had indeed contracted the virus. They confirmed that Buddy’s original samples collected on May 15 by his vet were positive for SARS-CoV-2, but the additional samples they collected on May 20 were negative, indicating that the virus was no longer present in the dog’s body, a department spokesperson told National Geographic.

DUKE HAD TESTED NEGATIVE, BUT HE DID HAVE ANTIBODIES, INDICATING HE HAD BEEN INFECTED AT SOME POINT.

Symptoms Near The End

Yet Buddy’s health continued to decline.
  • He started urinating uncontrollably and had blood in his urine.
  • Later that month, his breathing became so labored that it sounded “like a freight train,” Allison Mahoney says.
  • In early July, Buddy began to have trouble walking.

ON THE MORNING OF JULY 11, ALLISON FOUND BUDDY IN THE KITCHEN THROWING UP CLOTTED BLOOD.

 “IT LOOKED LIKE IT WAS HIS INSIDES COMING OUT. HE HAD IT ALL OVER. IT WAS COMING FROM HIS NOSE AND MOUTH. WE KNEW THERE WAS NOTHING THAT COULD BE DONE FOR HIM FROM THERE. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO FOR A DOG WITH THIS? BUT HE HAD THE WILL TO LIVE. HE DIDN’T WANT TO GO.”

On the day Buddy was euthanized, the vet told Robert that new blood work results indicated that he almost certainly had lymphoma, which could explain many of his symptoms.

Scientific Research Gap

Buddy’s case highlights an important question:

ARE ANIMALS WITH UNDERLYING CONDITIONS MORE LIKELY TO GET SICK FROM THE CORO****, JUST AS HUMANS ARE? IT ALSO HIGHLIGHTS JUST HOW LITTLE INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE ABOUT INFECTED PETS.

Most of what’s known about the coronavirus in companion animals comes from research done on dogs and cats in labs but this can be very different from what actually occurs in the real world, says Elizabeth Lennon, a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, who reviewed Buddy’s medical records for National Geographic.

DESPITE THIS BEING HER AREA OF STUDY, BUDDY’S VET RECORDS WERE THE FIRST SHE’D SEEN OF AN INFECTED PET.

  • Besides the published research on cats and dogs in labs, scientists also have access to the USDA’s public database of every positive animal case in the U.S., with only basic information.
  • The World Organization of Animal Health maintains a similar database of global cases.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an extensive toolkit on its website that includes a regularly updated list of known symptoms in animals, but more specific case data is not currently available to the public or the broader research community.
12 dogs and at least 10 cats have tested positive in the U.S. Lennon says few case details have been made available to researchers.

MOST OF THESE STUDIES WILL BE PUBLISHED IN PEER-REVIEWED SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS IN THE NEXT SIX TO 12 MONTHS, BUT  “ON THE VET SIDE OF THINGS, WE HAVEN’T ACCELERATED THE PROCESS YET.”

 There has been “no analysis of all cases as a single unit to determine whether there are risk factors other than living in a house with a positive human,” says Shelley Rankin, chief of clinical microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and a colleague of Lennon’s.

Line of Action for State Veterinarians

State veterinarians typically take the lead when a pet tests positive, and they report details up to the CDC and USDA.

CASEY BARTON-BAHRAVESH, DIRECTOR OF THE CDC’S ONE HEALTH OFFICE IN THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR EMERGING AND ZOONOTIC INFECTIOUS DISEASES, SAYS SHE HAS A WEEKLY CALL WITH STATE VETERINARIANS TO SHARE WHAT THE CDC IS LEARNING ABOUT THE VIRUS IN ANIMALS. 

Lennon says more testing is required to understand how animals are being affected by the virus

The second dog to test positive in the U.S., also tied with similar symptoms like Buddy. 

“CERTAINLY IT IS LIKELY THE UNDERLYING CONDITION COULD WEAKEN THE DOG’S NATURAL DEFENSES TO A LOT OF THINGS,” HE SAID IN AN EMAIL.

Lennon says,

IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO SEE GUIDANCE THAT SPECIFIES WHAT INFORMATION VETERINARIANS SHOULD COLLECT AND WHAT TESTS THEY PERFORM ON A CORONAVIRUS-POSITIVE ANIMAL TO BUILD A CONSISTENT AND COMPLETE PICTURE OF HOW THE VIRUS AFFECTS PETS.

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Source: The National Geographic

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