TORONTO -- The news of a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York testing positive for COVID-19 is not a reason to panic about human-to-animal transmission of the virus, according to one animal health expert, but should rather be an important reminder for people to heed the same protective measures with their pets as they do themselves.

Officials say the case of four-year-old Malayan tiger Nadia becoming infected with the coronavirus is the first known case of an animal being infected in the U.S., or a tiger anywhere.

It’s believed the tiger became infected by a zoo worker who wasn’t showing any symptoms of the virus.

Dr. Scott Weese from the Ontario Veterinary College says Nadia’s story highlights some of what experts are trying to figure out when it comes to human-to-animal transmission of the coronavirus, including how common it is and what role animals can play in spreading it

Speaking to by phone from Milton, Ont., on Monday, Weese said that even though it is clear the virus can move from humans to animals, this type of transmission is likely more of a concern for animals than it is for humans.

While there have been a few documented cases of dogs in Hong Kong that tested positive for the virus, Weese is quick to point out that testing is hard to do and samples are difficult to collect, especially with large exotic species.

In a blog post he wrote on April 5 about the New York zoo tiger case, Weese said human-to-pet transmission of the coronavirus needs to be seriously considered in order to help prevent pets from contributing to human disease, and to help avoid “creating a (domestic) animal reservoir” for the virus.

“This is still very much a predominantly human disease, but we can’t completely ignore the role of animals even if it’s small,” Weese wrote.

That echoes the information being offered by Public Health Agency of Canada, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, all of which maintain that COVID-19 outbreaks are driven by person-to-person contact, and that there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

In his blog, Weese highlights some basic and practical tips on how to keep the pets in your household safe and lower the risk of pet-to-person transmission.

He says that if a person is infected with the virus, they should limit contact with animals, just as they would with people.

The same applies if someone in your house is sick.

Weese advises that if that’s the case, keep your pets away from other animals and people, and wash your hands after touching an animal.

Weese also suggests doing your best to ensure your pets adhere to the same physical distancing rules as humans do.

He says to keep your pets away from other people and animals outside of the house.

Mahima graphic

Weese says it’s a tough balancing act between keeping people informed and aware, and asking them to use common sense when looking out for their safety and the safety of their pets during a pandemic.

“We don’t want to people to freak out,” he added.

Infographic by Mahima Singh