SASKATOON -- People who are sick shouldn’t let their pets sleep in their beds and lick their faces during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Saskatoon animal health expert.

“We might actually be able to pass the virus from ourselves onto a pet, so it’s recommended that owners practice social distancing from their pets,” said Dr. Douglas Freeman, professor and dean of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

This advice comes as a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for COVID-19, raising questions about human-to-animal transmission of the virus.

Nadia, a four-year-old Malayan tiger, is believed to be the first known case of a non-domesticated animal contracting COVID-19 in the world, according to officials. It is believed that the tiger became infected by a zoo worker who wasn’t showing any symptoms.

Zookeepers noticed Nadia was wheezing, had a dry cough, and wasn’t eating, which led them to suspect she had COVID-19. Six other tigers and lions have also fallen ill at the Bronx Zoo.

Jeff Mitchell, zoo manager at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo, said they’re taking extra precautions to protect their animals, including using gloves and masks and washing hands in every building when interacting with cat species.

The zoo is also limiting the keeper staff who can interact with certain species and is following guidelines set out by the government and by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), he said in a statement to CTV News.

Right now, there is no evidence showing that domestic livestock and most pets can be infected with or transmit COVID-19, according to Freeman.

However, he said indications show cats, hamsters and ferrets are susceptible to the virus to some degree.

Freeman said this information has changed the way they deal with these animals at the Veterinary Centre.

“We really have to treat every animal as if it might have come from a home with COVID-19. Right now, we’re dealing with cats a little bit differently because of that information. We’re taking precautions but we’re still providing that emergency care.”

While there is no evidence showing the virus can spread from animals back to humans, the case of the Bronx tiger points to the fact that humans can pass it on to animals.

“There’s no reason for people to get rid of their pets, euthanize their pets, kick their pets out the door or anything like that. We still need to take care of our animals,” Freeman said.

Instead, he’s urging pet owners to take extra precautions to protect their animals from the virus.

“People that are getting outside and taking their pets for a walk should practice social distancing with their pets to other people’s pets and to other people. Even though you’re six feet away, don’t let your dog jump on somebody else or rub noses with somebody else’s pet.”

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health is also offering up advice to pet owners, stating “anyone who has COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, just as they should with people, until more information is available. If there is already an animal in the household, that animal should remain in isolation along with the patient.”

It also encourages pet owners to have a plan in place in case they get sick and cannot care for their animals. This includes identifying a family member or friend who will care for their animals if they become ill or are hospitalized.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association is also advising people who have COVID-19 to avoid coughing or sneezing on animals and to always wash their hands before touching or feeding their animals.


This current version of this article clarifies Freeman's comments, that specifically people who are sick, even if not with COVID-19, shouldn’t let their pets sleep in their beds and lick their faces.