Can Animals Carry COVID? Deer With Virus Found in Texas

Researchers have discovered white-tailed deer in Texas carrying COVID-19. The study suggests that deer cannot be overlooked as a source of COVID infection among people.

COVID has thus far been discovered to exist naturally in a wide range of animals including dogs, cats, mink, and even tigers and lions. It is suggested that when these infections exist in animals they could transmit to humans or to other species, including wild and domestic animals.

The problem is researchers aren't yet clear on when this can happen. Professor of biological sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, Douglas Watts, part of the research that discovered COVID in Texas deer. He said in a press release: "The one thing we know best about SARS-CoV-2 is its unpredictability. Therefore, the transmission of the virus from infected deer back to humans, while not likely, may be possible."

The team reached their findings, published in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases by examining 94 samples of blood collected from deer between 2018 and 2021. The researchers found 37 percent of the 54 samples collected during the pandemic contained COVID antibodies.

Can I Give COVID to My Pets?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the risk of animals spreading COVID to humans is currently believed to be low, with animals not believed to play a major role in its spread.

It adds that coronaviruses can spread from people to animals during close contact, with this likely to be responsible for its initial spread to humans from bats.

According to the CDC, most of the animals infected with COVID-19 became so after contact with humans like owners and caretakers. It advises that owners of dogs and cats who are sick with COVID avoid contact with their pets. This includes petting, snuggling, kissing, sharing food and even sleeping in the same bed.

The first documented case of COVID infection in pet cats occurred in April 2020 in separate areas of New York, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA). The first dog tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID in the U.S. six weeks after showing signs of troubled breathing in mid-April. The 7-year-old German shepherd called Buddy died in July 2020.

National Geographic reported that the second dog to test positive in the U.S., in Georgia, and the sixth dog, in South Carolina, also died, but their deaths were attributed to other conditions.

Of the pets that have been become infected with COVID, most cases have been very mild with serious illnesses in pets very rare, according to the CDC. Most domestic animals suffering from COVID can be treated by their owners at home.

Symptoms displayed by pets with COVID include fever, coughing, sneezing, runny noses, difficulty breathing, lack of energy, and vomiting and diarrhea.

Pets diagnosed with COVID should be isolated at home, this includes cats who the CDC says shouldn't be allowed to roam outside. Pets can resume normal activities after not showing symptoms without medical care for 72 hours.

COVID in Farm, Zoo and Wild Animals

National Geographic reported earlier this December that cases of zoo animals affected by COVID mostly involve meat-eating mammals like wolves, bears, hyenas and big cats.

Earlier this week Newsweek reported that several lions at Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana, had tested positive for COVID. In a Facebook post the zoo's senior veterinarian, Bob MacLean, said: "All lions continue to have a normal appetite and appear to be doing well. They are showing few symptoms other than coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. They are currently being quarantined in their habitat and continue to receive excellent care."

The zoo's lion enclosure remained open with additional fencing to keep the big cats separated from the public. MacLean continued: "It is not yet known how the three lions acquired the infection, but it is most likely that they were exposed to an asymptomatic keeper, despite following all biosecurity protocols in place and heightened protocols around susceptible animals."

According to the CDC, there have been several reports of mink on farms in many countries spreading COVID to their handlers and to other animals like cats and dogs. In the U.S. there has been an increase in mink deaths on the most affected farms.

The USDA says that thus far there is no evidence that COVID can affect other farm animals. On the USDA website, Agricultural Research Services (ARS) senior national program leader for animal production and protection, Cyril Gay, writes: "ARS research clearly provided science-based evidence that eggs and live poultry, cattle, swine, and arthropods (mosquitoes, ticks, flies), were not able to replicate the virus and become a source of infection for people."

COVID had previously been detected in wild deer populations in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York, but this new research shows that the range of infection is geographically wide with the virus seeming to be common in deer.

COVID in animals
A stock image of a deer and lion, and an image of a dog and cat being petted. A new study shows deer infected with COVID as the virus has been detected in other animals like cats, dogs and lions. chendongshan/ SeymsBrugger/ Harry Collins/Getty