A tiger at a Pine County wildlife sanctuary tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, making it the second confirmed captive or domestic animal case in the state.
A Carver County house cat tested positive in June, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.
"It's a good reminder that the virus can be transmitted from people to animals," said Dr. Beth Thompson, state veterinarian. People who test positive with COVID-19 or suspect they have it should avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection, state officials said.
"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.
Staff at the Wildcat Sanctuary in Pine County noticed in early January that there were lions, tigers and cougars that were displaying COVID-19 symptoms. After consulting with state animal health officials about testing for the virus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed Sabrina, a 21-year-old female Sumatran/Bengal tiger, had COVID-19.
Sanctuary officials said they didn't test all the cats with symptoms because it wouldn't have changed the course of treatment or outcome for the cats. But because of Sabrina's age and chronic health issues, she was sedated on Jan. 10, examined by the sanctuary's veterinarian and swab samples taken to be tested for COVID-19.
Sabrina has since recovered.
"Though some of the animals experienced a decrease in appetite and intermittent wheezing, they are all bright, alert and responsive under close veterinary care," said sanctuary executive director Tammy Thies. "None of the cats are showing symptoms at this time and all are expected to fully recover."
Throughout the pandemic, sanctuary officials said they've maintained strict COVID-19 protocols, including wearing face masks, sanitizing hands and maintaining physical distance. Since the virus exposure, they've increased COVID-19 protocols, requiring caregivers to wear N95 masks and gloves when in proximity to the cats.
Sanctuary officials believe the initial exposure to the virus likely came from an asymptomatic caregiver. They believe cat-to-cat transmission happened after the initial exposure from a caregiver.
All staff and caregivers were tested and four who were diagnosed with COVID-19 have safely returned to work after quarantining. The sanctuary, which is home to 126 cats, is not open to the public.
State health officials are working closely with the sanctuary to better understand and monitor the situation. They noted the importance of investigating such cases, saying veterinarians should contact them to discuss testing and surveillance of exposed and symptomatic animals.
As the virus spreads in humans, additional animals may test positive for COVID-19. Animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans, according to state officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has additional information on its website regarding animals and COVID-19.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788