CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — The pet dog of a Chapel Hill family taking part in a study at Duke University is the first in the U.S. to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, according to researchers.
"To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which the virus has been detected in a dog. Little additional information is known at this time as we work to learn more about the exposure," Dr. Chris Woods, the lead investigator of the Molecular and Epidemiological Study of Suspected Infection (MESSI), confirmed in a statement to CBS News.
Early last month, Hong Kong health authorities said a coronavirus patient's pet dog that tested positive for the virus was "likely" the first case of human-to-animal transmission. Since then, there have been several cases reported in cats, but research shows dogs are not very susceptible to the virus.
WRAL-TV in Raleigh, which was first to report the U.S. development, said the dog, a pug named Winston, is part of a family in Chapel Hill.
Dr. Heather McLean told WFMY News 2 reporter Adaure Achumba that she, her husband, and son were sick with COVID-19 last month, but they didn't expect their dog would get sick too.
"When we all were sick in March, my husband noticed that he seemed to have a little bit of a cough for a couple of days, and then one morning he didn't eat his breakfast, which is very unusual for a pug," said McLean, who is a pediatrician at Duke University. McClean's husband works in the emergency room at UNC Hospitals.
The family enrolled in a COVID-19 study being conducted by Duke University researchers. While three members of the family and Winston the pug tested positive for coronavirus, another family dog and a cat were negative. The family's fourth pet, a lizard, wasn't tested. McLean said Winston's overall symptoms were mild.
"He is fully recovered but he's a little tired from all the interviews and that's just about it," son Ben McLean told WFMY News 2.
Ben McLean said he wasn't surprised when the family was informed about the dog testing positive for the virus because the dog sleeps with his mom, licks off their dinner plates, and gets lots of kisses on the face. What he said surprised him was that his dog was the first.
"I was pretty shocked. I knew there was no dog that tested positive until Winston so I knew this was a really really big deal," he said. "There may be more animals that have coronavirus, there just isn't any testing. Obviously, those tests should be going to people rather than pets, but because we were part of a research study, we found out about Winston.
Ben McLean said people should not worry about their pets getting sick and dying from this disease because there's little evidence that it is to pets.
Heather McLean's daughter was the only human family member who didn't test positive.
"I will just advise not to worry too much about this. There are a lot of things going on in the world right now and people are struggling and this is definitely not something that people should be worried about," said Sydney McLean who is Dr. McClean's daughter.
Some pet owners in the Triad, like Daniel Coughlin, were worried about this latest development in the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Knowing that just one dog in North Carolina, you know, this could potentially impact other dogs. Can a dog get it more than once? It's just concerning," Coughlin said. "Just, in general, I've been trying not to go out into the public as I'm taking walks through the neighborhood with my dog."
"In these days, we really should keep our pets close to us when we're walking so that they're not picking it up either," said Triad veterinarian, Dr. Janine Oliver of Benessere Animal Hospital in Greensboro.
Oliver said it's unlikely pets can transmit the virus to humans but pets can get it from humans.
"Think about your animal, if you are going to be sick and go to the hospital find someone who can look after them. Don't leave them at home without any care," Oliver said.
Heather McLean and her son said they also tested for antibodies and will be donating plasma for more COVID-19 research.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed key points for people with animals.
- Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people, and others cause illness in certain types of animals.
- Some coronaviruses that infect animals can sometimes be spread to people, but this is rare.
- We do not know the exact source of the current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The first infections were thought to be linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now primarily spreading from person to person.
- At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.
- We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations.
- The first case of an animal testing positive for the virus in the United States was in a tiger that had a respiratory illness at a zoo in New York City.
- CDC is aware of a small number of pets, including cats and dogs, reportedexternal icon to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19.
- Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household. If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets.
- Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by the virus that causes COVID-19 and the role animals may play in the spread of COVID-19.
- This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.
- For more information, see COVID-19 and Animals Frequently Asked Questions.