The snow leopards at the Louisville Zoo are the latest animals to be infected with the coronavirus.
One female cat, NeeCee, has tested positive and two males, Kimti and Meru, are presumed positive, based on tests performed at a regional veterinary diagnostic center which must be confirmed at a national laboratory.
The cats all show minor symptoms of coughing and wheezing, as do the tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo who tested positive in April. New York’s cats have recovered without difficulty, and the Kentucky Zoo expects snow leopards to do the same.
Domestic cats, dogs and mink have also been infected with the virus, which causes Covid-19 in humans. Domestic cats and mink can pass it on to other animals. Mink are the only animals known to be seriously ill to date and are the only animals known to transmit the virus to humans.
Denmark has ordered up to 17 million mink to be killed over concerns over mutations in the virus affecting the vaccine’s potential effectiveness. These fears were not corroborated, but many scientists supported the decision because a parallel pandemic in mink is at greater risk of mutations and transmission to humans and possibly other animals.
So far, there are no documented cases of dogs or cats transmitting the virus to humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers recommendations for treating pets if owners are infected, and the Department of Agriculture has guidelines for mink farmers.
Tests for the virus in animals are not the same as those done for humans and can only be done in specialized laboratories that do not test people. The Louisville Zoo sent fecal samples to the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which performed initial tests showing all three snow leopards were positive.
Samples were then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, which confirmed the positive result for the female snow leopard. Confirmation was pending for the two male cats.