9 Big Cats at National Zoo Being Treated for COVID

Keepers aren't sure how the lions and tigers got sick
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2021 12:00 PM CDT
Big Cats at DC's National Zoo Being Treated for COVID
File photo of Sumatran tiger Damai at the National Zoo in Washington. The zoo's big cats are being treated for COVID.   (AP Photo/Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Lions and tigers and … COVID? Several big cats at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, have tested positive after showing symptoms like decreased appetite, lethargy, and sneezing, per NBC 4 Washington. Zoo officials aren’t sure how the big cats got sick—they’re too far from visitors to catch or spread the virus, and may have caught it from an asymptomatic staffer. Zoo staff tested the animals’ poop, but are waiting for confirmation of the diagnosis from a national lab, per DCist. Six African lions, a Sumatran tiger, and two Amur tigers are showing symptoms, but the lions seem to feel worse.

Since the animals are pretty much isolated already, they will still be allowed to roam their enclosures while being treated with meds to help them feel more comfortable, and antibiotics to prevent any secondary infections. Pfizer has a subsidiary that makes a vaccine for zoo animals, and the National Zoo will start vaccinating vulnerable species—mainly apes and big cats—as soon as possible. No other animals appear to be infected at the facility. Scientists have known for about a year that animals can catch COVID, and that cats appear to be more susceptible than dogs. Researchers aren’t sure whether that’s because of something in a cat’s physiology or because they sleep closer to their human’s face. (More COVID-19 stories.)

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